Composition Exercise with a 50mm lens (Part 1)
100 Comments


Here’s an exercise for you which i think will really make you stretch your creativity and think pretty hard about the pictures that you’re gonna take. What i’m going to ask you to do, is to set your lens to fifty millimeters and to leave it there and to not zoom. What i mean by that, so for example we’ve got an ocean liner over there, and on a day like this it’s really miserable and grey, but most often you would come down here and go oh, ocean liner put the camera to your eye zoom in and try and fill the frame as much as you can and take the a picture. I’ve only got a seventy mill lens on here, so that’s a bit rubbish anyway. But if your lens is fixed at fifty then the best you’re going to be able to achieve is going to be that, and as you can see the ship is very very small. So a shot like that really wouldn’t work, even if the sun was shining and everything was beautiful, you’d have to crop in a lot. part of this exercises no cropping
allowed you can put your pictures into the computer and brighten them a bit or darken them a bit or give the colours a little tweak but that’s kind of acceptable but no
cropping this is about learning to compose your shots in the camera in the view finder and to stretch your creativity with this fifty mil lens. why is fifty so difficult? fifties difficult because it how we see
the world with our eyes. if you look at a picture like this one which was taken using a two hundred
millimeter lens which has a very different way of seeing the world
to the way our eyes do, combined with a wide aperture which has given it a shallow depth of field the image is immediately eye catching. And it’s the same if you use a wide angled shot, it’s different to how we see the world with our eyes. So, to get interesting images with your focal length set at fifty millimeters is more of a challenge, but particularly on a very dull day like this, and i will erg you to try it out on a dull day, you might not come home with staggering pictures but it will really make you start looking and thinking about pictures you’re taking. how do you set this? well on your zoom ring all you have to do is turn the barrel of the lens until you hit fifty millimeters you line the little dot up and that’s fifty millimeters, so you’ve set it there, and you leave it there. if you don’t have the focal length of your lens written on
the barrel ring, because i know some lenses don’t, then don’t get too hung over, it doesn’t have to be fifty all i’m gonna do is suggest you zoom it out a bit and whatever is at it’s shortest, widest angle zoom it out a little bit and and and leave it at that, the main thing is, don’t zoom it. You’ve got a fifty mil prime lens, put it on because then it’s no question about zooming. if you think you’re going to be unable to control yourself because we
are so used to lifting our cameras up and zooming in and out, and you think that you’re not going to be able to stop yourself doing it, here’s a little thing, get yourself a roll of tape and just wrap a little piece of tape around it, set it to fifty mil and wrap it around it with some tape and then you can’t zoom it. Then you’ve gotta move yourself around and start thinking about your shots. So let’s go and have a little go, let’s go and find some. okay There’s a wide open scene and it won’t work on a dull day the thing to do is to sort of close down in and start looking at smaller detail, and i really rather like this, that somebody has sort of breaded a piece of string through some twigs and made this little thing for their beach hut, i kinda like i think it’s quite nice. So let’s have a look, because it’s quite different let’s see, let’s have a go at photographing it. So I’ve got my lens, my fifty millimeters as always and let’s think of different ways to take a picture of this. I can sort of look at it, at a sort of an angle, like this, now i like that straight away. I’m tilting the camera very slightly and sort of looking down, and i quite like the sea shell on the top actually, and oh i like that i like the post, running down here to the sea shell, and the string and the wood below it. So i’m going to sort of look down on it. I’m going to focus here on the sea shell fifty millimeters and nothing else, and just sort of go for a shot like that. and it’s just a bit different, a bit
interesting, let’s see one of the whole thing, to do that no zooming remember, you’re not allowed to touch that zoom. And so i need to get myself into a position to see what it looks like, line it up. Now most people would sort of look at something and go ‘ oh look’ isn’t that interesting and take that picture. which is absolutely boring and dull, and dreadful isn’t it? You have to think, you have to move yourself around a bit, so let’s see, i quite like the way these timber, these little pieces off wood here go from side to side. But we’ve got all of these up rights of the beach huts. So let’s see if i can get a shot looking along it so we can sort of see something beach hut-y but there’s also this little thing at the bottom of the shot, let’s just shoot down a little let’s get focused on that and onto the, it’s almost like a little native american totem sort of thing isn’t it. i quite like that, let’s go for that. Just about there, yes i quite like that. I could even get closer to it, and do another one looking along that way with the camera landscape instead of upright, this is all about experimentation this
isn’t one ways right and one ways wrong, it’s just experimentation. Let’s just focus on those let’s just try it a bit higher up, that’s nice, let’s go with one of those. i think that’s pretty cool

100 thoughts on “Composition Exercise with a 50mm lens (Part 1)

  1. Hi Mike..fantastic videos. I'm stuck with a camera that's got a 35mm lens only…fancy doing a short film on how I can make full use of that lens? Thanks Mike…you are the light for all of us who are dying to get better at this. Best tutorials bar none.

  2. Mike, another great video, thanks! The big thing I have picked up is your ability to compose images that have impact rather than just turning out "run of the mill." The threaded wood was a classic example of this (The close up of the anchor point on the dock another.) Did you have this ability from day one or was it something that came with time and experience? Really hoping its the latter!

  3. Thank you. I'm glad i found you Mike. I love your training. Getting my camera ready to go out and do some of your exercises. Composition has always been my struggle, Wish me luck.

  4. Good Luck, have fun and don't be scared to experiment with things which you wouldn't normally do. Try laying on the ground, standing on a wall, taking the same subject from lots of different angles….

  5. hi mike I have sony a57 so apart from 18-55 kit lens which prime lens should i buy 50mm f1.8 or 35mm f.18(a57 is crop sensor camera and right now i can choose just one lens between them)
    thanks

  6. Hi. It depends on what you think you like the look of the most. 50mm will have a slightly narrower field of view and slightly more magnification. Go to a shop with your camera and ask to take a few test shots with each then buy the one you like most.

  7. Mike, you are using a 50mm lens but your D300 has an APSC sensor which means that technically your lens becomes something like an 80mm right?

  8. I love your videos especially with how you take your time and explain it so well that it is easy to understand. Makes me want to go out and take more pictures again with my 35-55 mm glass.

  9. May I ask a question which no one answered me before? (I know your point was no zooming but its the same topic.) As far as I understand we need to take a ~35mm lens on a DX to get the same image we would see with our eyes – right? But don't we get different distortion and bokeh than with a 55mm lens. Which would mean that we don't get the same image or overall impression like with a full frame 50mm right? So that talking about optimal mm for different purposes is only useful for full frame?

  10. Crop factors will alter the focal length equivalent but the optimal mm for different purposes is pretty much the same. For me optimal focal length is the one that makes the image in the viewfinder look most pleasing to the photographer.

  11. I'm sorry I don't know. I only know the cameras I use and they are D300s. have a look at some forums and see what owners are saying.

  12. crop sensor cameras do not increase the focal length of lenses. Focal length is a distance from the focusing element to the sensor. The sensor distance does not change on a crop camera. The angle of view decreases on crop cameras because there is less surface area therefore less angle of view. A 50mm on full frame is 50mm on a crop just with the edges cut off.

  13. Thanks Mike, really enjoy your videos :o)  I agree, I really love a 50mm lens which is actually a 75mm on a crop sensor making it also very nice for portraits.  My 50mm 1.8 is a beautiful lens.

  14. I've watched lots of your videos and ones like this really help because it really makes you think about what your doing. Like many people, I guess I've found myself taking thousands of images most of which are average at best. I now find myself being far more selective with good results.

  15. Mike, the tip is really unaccurate… Have you ever met a full frame user who doesn't know how to change the focal length on a zoom lens? 50mm is a standard, the way we see it, but you forgot to mention one important thing that must be explained to all newbies… IF THEY HAVE BOUGHT AN ENTRY-LEVEL DSLR (and they probably have, or enthusiast level atleast, but less probably), THEY HAVE A CROPPED SENSOR, MEANING THEIR FOCAL LENGTH WILL CHANGE BASED ON  THE CROP FACTOR. i.e. if you have a canon, the crop factor is 1.6, which means that by using a 50mm, they will get 80mm equivalent focal length.. all other DSLR will have somewhat arround 75mm.
    SO GUYS, if you really want to do the excercise PROPERLY, and you have the cheapest DSLR, you need a 30mm instead of "the real" 50mm!

  16. Just watched your video. I liked the idea of setting your lens to 50 mm and then having to think about composition sometimes I think the option of a zoom lens makes things a bit easy for us but the nifty fifty sets a bit of a challenge.

  17. I would like to offer an explanation of why 50mm is considered the standard and an explanation why sensor size dose not change this. The reason that the 50mm is a standard holds true regardless of your sensor size is because the rational that a standard appears the way we see with our eyes is based on the distortion of the the lens not the focal length. The precise standard is 43mm, but only Pentax makes a lens in this size. The farther away from the standard you go the more distortion you will find in your images. There are two type of distortion that are caused by focal length. Wide angles cause barrel distortion while telephoto lenses cause pincushion distortion. At the standard a photo of a square will have straight lines. At a wide angle the sides of the square will bulge out and at a telephoto angle they will bend inward. This holds true from front to back as well witch means that distances from the camera appear normal at the standard while being elongated at wide angles and compressed at telephoto angles.

  18. Thanks. that sounds like a good tip, will try that next time I'm out for a hiking trip – I usually put on my prime lenses when I'm out to photograph something specific, but for hikes I usually put on my waterproof zoom lens. And it really tempts me into that lazy, "meh, just take another picture of that vista and hope it'll turn out usable" style of photography. Always useful to have some practices and challenges to break such habits.

  19. I would love to see how you processed these images. They look great! I will be looking for other videos from you for sure!

  20. Love the idea, but really.  TAPE MY CAMERA?  Way too much money invested to gummy it up.  Not a good technique. Still, all in all, great video series!  Thanks!

  21. I found a way to see thru the lens at 50mm by opening both eyes and to match what you see thru the viewfinder. By the way, I liked how you did explaying it in short time and how to control the temptation of zooming. Thanks.

  22. what's the first lens that you suggest to buy? now i have a 14-42 mm kit lens(equivalent to a 28-84 mm on a full frame) i was thinking to get a 19 mm f2.8 sigma (equivalent to a 39 mm on full frame or a 30 mm (60 equivalent)

  23. Enjoyed that Mike, but the lens is only 50mm on a full size sensor (obviously you know that) but most affordable DSLRs (us lot;-) ) have a cropped sensor of EG 2.4 which makes the lens 120mm (2.4 x 50 = 120),in reality we are using a 120mm lens. This is in no way a criticism of your video. Rob.

  24. I have just a question Mike. (sorry my english) I have to record with a fixed camera a live show on sunday..i have a lumix gh4 with a 7-14mm ….some prime manual lens 20mm 3.5 zenith…..and canon fd lens 50mm 1.8.  Even if manual my idea to use the 50mm as the canon have already more light. but.i am very curious to know if a 7mm could be an interesting choice. The lumix 7-14mm is an amazing lens but it can be a problem with no enough light…or maybe is not appropriate due to the distortion…

  25. Nice simple video Mike, After too many years without a DSLR i am just getting back into things and own several zooms but as i love landscapes and live in North Yorkshire i am thinking 50mm is the way forward, my question is should i go for 50mm prime or 28mm on my 4/3 Oly for the big vista shots ?

  26. This exercise is for a Full Frame, right ?
    So 50mm on FF should be adapted for APS-C so in my case with a Canon 55mm÷1.6 = 31.25 so I should stick to something such as 30/32 for the same result, right ?
    The closest ticks on my lense are 24mm and 35mm so I should go for 35mm to do this exercise ?
    many Thanks.

  27. I Can't respond to your comment +Emino Meneko – you need to change your G+ settings.. Yes you can work to include the crop factor if you wish. The point of the exercise is more about choosing a focal length that's around 'natural' for human eyes then not changing it…

  28. Hi @Mike Browne, I really like this video, thank you for inspiring us. My question is, how do you focusing on the sea shell (4:13), did you use auto or manual focus? How to make sharp focus out of centre? Sorry for the basic question. Thanks

  29. I have a question Mike, I never seem to get the aperture right for my pictures. I always want the blurry background like your pictures but they always end up boring. What aperture did you use for these? and what would you recommend I practice? btw I think your a fantastic photographer and an absolute amazing and kind teacher 🙂

  30. Mike, I'm in a big of a dilemma with deciding which 50mm to buy. should i go for f/1.4 or f/1.8? also, would you suggest to buy D type lens (with aperature ring) or G (with no aperature ring)? thanks!!

  31. I use my 50mm 1.8 lens the majority of times I go out shooting – which is a lot!. I can see why photographers call it; THE NIFTY FIFTY. And it's very sharp!
    Cheers!

  32. Back in '69 I did a tour of Europe with a 50 mm 1.7 automatic Yashica lens. Had a 35 mm but it wasn't automatic and so I didn't like to use it. The photos turned out excellently and nowadays I have to remind myself not to rely too much on wide-angles.

  33. +Natserog.
    If you want more of your photo in focus, choose a higher F number. F5.6. F8, F11 or F16. If you want a blurry background, use a lower F number.
    If you're shooting a portrait, move the person away from the background (10 feet or more) and use a low F number (F1.8 or F2.8). This will give you a nice blurry background. Zoom with your feet. Move back and forth until you get the shot you want. Remember to focus on the eyes.
    One of my DSLR's has no auto focus, so I have to all the work. It was the way I learned photography before digital cameras came along.
    When you get used to using a 50mm lens you will find it easier to use. It's a brilliant lens!
    Even when I'm using my 28-80mm lens, I use it at about 35mm. On my cropped frame D70 camera, 35mm becomes 52.5mm. The aperture is also multiplied by the crop factor (1.5) For example, F4 becomes F6, F5.6 becomes F8.4, F8 becomes F12 and F16 becomes F24! F10, is usually my maximum aperture.

    I hope this will help you.
    Happy shooting

  34. Thanks to you, Mike, in just one year, I have come a long way from using my cameras in Program mode.
    I now shoot mainly in Manual, Shutter and Aperture modes. I still revert to using Program mode on the odd occasion.

    After learning to multiply both the focal length of the lens AND the aperture by the crop factor, my photo's have really taken on a new look! The nifty fifty is rarely off my cameras. I find that setting the lens to f8, works really well for a deep DOF (F8 X 1.5 =F12) It hits the 'sweet-spot'. F7.1 (F10.65) works well too.

    Once again, thanks!
    I'll keep watching !
    D 🙂

  35. My photography teacher at the R
    Academy of Arts had the ability to pick every picture taken with a zoomlens and throw it the rubbish bin. That might be the reason why I have a camera with a fixed lens as main camera. (fuji X100). zooms have improved over the years but prime lenses are still better.

  36. I know the Video is now quite old but if you're planning on doing a remake in some way, you could mention that there are tons of vintage prime lenses that are super cheap, that are super fast and most of them, quite sharp too.
    Awesome video by the way 🙂

  37. The 50mm was my first lens when I started in 1979 came with camera, a lens not to be laughed at it can do a lot.
    I have to say it's the lens to work with at first to understand composition and make the most of it as this will train you to do the same with other lenses as you build your kit.
    Thank you for this video most useful Mate..

  38. I bought my self a 50mm lens, and to be honest it's one of my favourite when I'm walking around a street, it makes think of what I'm doing … so if I let's say want to take a photo of some streat performer, I can't hide in the back and hope they don't notice me, I have to come closer to them and that photo. Also because it's a 50mm I can set my f from 1.8 to 22 and that adds some more details in my pictures.

  39. I've got a camera canon 1100D macro 18-55mm lens shall i keep it at 55 or zoom it to 50? I'm still a kid and my dad can't buy any other lens so just wanted to ask how to adjust my camera for this activity..
    I am learning this as my dad is taking me to Swizz..

  40. But will sensor size be a problem? Like, should i get a 25mm for my micro four thirds which is 50mm full frame equivalent?

  41. You don't tell us whether you're using a full frame or a crop sensor camera, and a 50 mm lens will give very different angles of view. On a crop sensor Nikon it'l be the same as a 75 mm on a full frame, and on my Canon it'l be like an 80 mm. In other words, if I'm going to do your exercise properly, should I still use my 50 mm lens, or should I attempt to set my kit lens at 31,25 mm which would be the euivalent of a 50 mm on a full frame? Or is it not important?

  42. Hi Mike. Watching you take photos, I have a question for you. Do you ever get eye blur taking lots of photos? If so how do you deal with it? I find that after taking a few photos my eyes are out of sync and I struggle to see properly. Is this a common problem? I don't need normal glasses but I do use glasses for reading.

  43. mike, I know this vid is 5 years back, but your message is still so relevant today, Im a dslr vidio bod, my 2 fav lenses ? 50m and 35m 1.8. scorsese recently said ? you can make movies now with a camera no bigger than a freeking door knob, BUT LEAVE THE ZOOM ALONE.

  44. I do like to have different focal lengths accessible to me, however my prime lenses have taught me to move my ass, in so doing have taught me to use my zoom lens better. being stuck primed may feel dreadfully painful, but it is a great work out for your brain

  45. Hello from 2018. I'm watching photography videos and thinking to maybe buy a good and expensive (for me) 60 mm prime telephoto lens for my smartphone camera :d I'll find myself in this constant excercise then.

  46. 00:15 or.. mount a 50mm prime lens in the first place, so you won't be tempted fiddling on that zoom ring 😉

  47. Always a great teaching class particularly I love the idea of explanation and your excellent English language, thank you so much indeed

  48. nice and infomartive video. it's just funny how you're always out of breath in your videos haha

  49. Excellent video, I learned a lot!

    Whenever I take a shot, I instinctively avoid standing tall. I crouch lower or close to the ground. Most of the time this gets me a unique view, but sometimes it doesn't. Whatever works, depending on the subject. It also helps to take shots at different angles.

    I bought a mid-level Nikon D5600 dslr with a vari-angle lcd. I'm enjoying it very much because I can get the camera close to the ground without lying on my back or getting my elbows on the ground. I can afford to buy a full frame camera, but seeing that it doesn't have a vari-angle lcd, I opted for the D5600 instead. For me, vari-angle capability is a feature I consider very important. The simple tilt screen capability of more expensive dslr is not enough for me.

  50. Can I ask for you to look at photography from a different direction you always find other ways be it leaning on something ot getting down on your knees but what about if you where dissabled can't get down on your knees and have to use crutches then find the best angles their you go your new project

  51. What is meant by, “normal,” in photo-ese? Well, what it is NOT talking about is angle of view. What it is talking about is the depth of field which includes the separation of objects in the foreground and background. A 50mm is not normal on a FF camera, it’s normal on any camera. A 35mm on an APS-C sensor will provide the same angle of view BUT NOT THE SAME FOV as the human eye. A 50mm on a medium format will provide a “normal” depth of field but also the same angle of view as a 35mm on a FF; and it what is meant when you hear, “that medium format look.”. If one happens to have an Olympus micro 4/3 camera then – unfortunately – to get the same image separation or NORMAL look and feel one has to settle for the angle of view of a FF 100mm lens. Clear a mud yet?

    Personally I like the NORMAL look but for the sake of size and weight I’ve compromised to a Fuji crop sensor. About the only time this is an actual advantage is with portraits. Don’t let anyone kid you, a portrait of someone that looks like the way the human eye sees is GOOD. So, with a 50mm on my crop sensor I can shoot with a NORMAL 50mm but have the portrait benefits of an 85mm. To anyone that has actually read all the way to this point, you have what used to be a NORMAL attention span.

  52. I actually tuck a lovely group shot today with around the 50mm and yes you can take some brilliant shots with a 50mm

  53. Love your videos. I am learning so much. I have a Nikon dx camera. Use 50mm lens for this exercise.? Or a 35? 35×1.5 = 52.5. Thanks.

  54. This is a nice example and it's important to practice this, but I noticed that you use a dx lens, wouldn't that make the 50mm field of view be more like 75mm?

  55. Hello Sir, thank you for putting out these videos – I’m learning a lot from them.

    “50 is difficult because it’s how we see the world with our eyes”. If the lens does not indicate 50mm, one can do an old-school eye calibration so that the size and scope of the image in the viewfinder/LED screen should match what you’d would see with your eyes. Voila!

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