Wouldn’t it be nice if you could buy one thing and it would make you a better photographer? Yet, as I read forums I always see comments like, “You can’t buy your way to better photos” or “There are no magic lenses that make you better.” Well, I’m telling you right now, no strings attached, that there is one thing you can buy that will make you a better photographer.

Nifty LeviSim-2
Nikon D800, 50mm f/1.4 lens, f/11, 1/125s, ISO 400.

The Nifty Fifty

This is simply a 50mm prime lens (prime, or fixed, means it doesn’t zoom), and they can be purchased new or used for about US$100, and they are typically very fast with an f/1.8 aperture, and they are very sharp. This is a lens you could possibly afford by mowing lawns or washing windows this summer. Don’t waste your money on the f/1.4 versions. Get the one eight and use it. Use it for everything everyday.

Nifty LeviSim-1
Nikon D800, 50mm f/1.4 lens, f/11, 25 seconds, ISO 100

50mm and Get There

The thing about using a prime lens is that you can’t zoom to alter what’s in your frame. Zooming the lens to change the framing is lazy, and affects more than the framing. There’s a phrase associated with prime lenses, “zoom with your feet,” but that’s a fallacy. You need to frame with your feet, and get the idea of zooming out of your brain. That is, move yourself and you camera around until you’ve got what you want in the frame.

Nifty LeviSim-3
Nikon D800, 50mm f/1.4 lens, f/11, 3 seconds, ISO 100

Lens Goggles

If you mount that nifty fifty on your camera and go photowalking, you’ll be awfully frustrated for the first while because you won’t be able to zoom. After a little bit, however, your brain will anticipate what it will see through the lens, and you’ll begin seeing the world at 50mm. You’ll begin visualizing what your camera can do before you even lift it to your eye. Get where I’m going here? You’ll begin to visualize and see pictures even when you don’t have a camera with you. Do you see that this is making you a better photographer? Being a great photographer is all about vision, and this one cheap lens will help you along that path faster than anything else you could buy.

Nifty LeviSim-4
Nikon D800, 50mm f/1.4 lens, f/8, five frame HDR, ISO 100. If you’re out shooting with only your 50mm and find a wider shot you just have to make, just shoot a panorama!

Fix your lens, Free your vision

This isn’t about cropped sensors and 35mm practically being a 50mm on my Canon Rebel. Don’t buy the 35mm lens. Buy the 50. It’s cheap. If you already have a prime lens, just use that. Longer lenses are even more frustrating (but more rewarding). Heck, don’t buy the nifty fifty, just buy some masking tape and tape your kit lens tight at 50mm. Go shoot with it everyday for an hour or two, and don’t worry about what’s going to be in the pictures. It’s about training your brain and your eyes. Fix your lens and free your vision.

See you on the street!