When I began my photography career, I shot largely with a 50mm lens. Generally considered to be a “normal” lens, mimicking what the natural eye can see, I gravitated toward that focal length for its photojournalistic qualities, and its ability to capture images in a straightforward, no-frills type of way.
At the time, it seemed the most efficient and practical sort of lens for what I wanted to photograph. It wasn’t too wide, and it wasn’t too long. I wasn’t going for theatrics, and I felt that the 50mm kept me focused on making images with a clear sense of purpose and visual content.
I was using other lenses as well, but I found myself always going back to the 50.
Plus, I figured if it was good enough for Cartier-Bresson, then it was good enough for me.
Then, last year, as I was transitioning from film back to digital, I bought a 35mm prime lens for my Nikon DSLR.
Wow. The wider field of view has been a game-changer for me. I’m not saying I always prefer it now over the 50, or other lenses I own. But in the right environment and context, I’m able to do things with the 35 that I could not as easily do with the 50.
Chief among them is the ability to create more environmental portraits. I love being able to show more of the environment of my subjects, how they exist in it, and how it helps to tell a larger story about who they are, where they are, and what they do.
(Interesting side-note: Annie Leibovitz, one of my favorite photographers, has also preferred the 35mm, for this same reason.)
The 35mm lens also has more of a “cinematic” feel to it, and it does a better job at capturing moments and action. Its the lens I’ve been using since May for my Maria & Aidan project, for both stills and video.
Here are a few of my recent portraits, made with the 35mm lens.
Janiece, who lives on a farm and community in Joshua Tree, Ca., with friends, family and artisans, 2019.
Scott, a Vietnam veteran in front of Mount Shasta, off U.S. Route 97 in California. He was riding to San Diego from his home in Washington state, for a ship reunion with U.S. Navy members, 2019.
Shelby, engineering team member at GuideSpark in Redwood City, Ca., 2019.