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How to use a 50mm lens: 5 tips

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

How to use a 50mm lens

One of the most popular focal lengths around, a 50mm offers a wide range of photographic possibilities in a compact form. Though countless photographers have produced incredible images with a so-called 'nifty fifty', it's impossible to get the most out of your lens without some tips...

#1: Know the limits of your autofocus

Seagull photo 50mm
Try to avoid using your 50mm for action photography.

Many 50mm lenses, like the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM, feature slower autofocus systems than their professional counterparts.

Such a lens will focus smoothly, quietly, and accurately, but I'd recommend using a different lens if you need the ultimate in speed. Though there are workarounds (like setting your camera to continuous focusing), I would advise against using your 50mm for sports, wildlife, or action photography.

Experiment with different focus settings in your camera's menus to fine-tune your results.

#2: Try macro photography

Your 50mm lens is a powerful tool for most genres of photography, but one area where it truly excels is macro, or close-up, photography. Its small size and medium focal length make it a perfect candidate for powerful images.

A reversing ring is a small adapter, with a lens mount on one side and a filter thread on the other. It allows you to attach your lens to your camera backwards, turning your 50mm into a macro at a fraction of the cost. In fact, a reversing ring for Nikon's nifty fifty - the AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G - is just over five dollars! And some incredibly professional-looking close up photos can be produced.

Bokeh can give your photographs a mysterious look.

#3: Use bokeh

The wide aperture on your 50mm lens (probably f/1.8) provides you with countless shooting opportunities. One of the most common is bokeh -- a dreamy rendering of out-of-focus highlights in your image. It's easy to create the signature mystical look - simply set your aperture to its widest setting and start shooting!

You can find bokeh in countless shooting situations, but for the most pleasing effect, try to create bokeh in your own images. I've tried everything, from simply exploring my area for bokeh-filled scenes to holding LED lights in front of my 50mm.

I encourage you to experiment with different subjects and scenes when you're trying to create bokeh.

#4: Try Street Photography

50mm is an ideal focal length for street photography. It allows for lifelike shots of both full, 35mm-type scenes, as well as street portraits.

Also, there are near-infinite lens options around, and they are sold for very reasonable prices. 50mm is a very good way to go if you're on a budget.

#5: Use lens filters

If you're looking for a creative image, you may want to consider the polarizing filter. Offering deep blue skies as a background for your street shots and cutting reflections in windows, it adds an interesting flair to your photos. Its effect also can't be replicated in most post-processing software, making it a popular choice of filter.


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