Sample photos with (and of) the 50mm f/1.8 lens
Many of you who own a DSLR camera either already have a 50mm f/1.8 (or f/1.4) lens, or have been told you should buy one.
I frequently talk about and recommend this lens when teaching my DSLR classes, but I didn’t actually have one of my own until this one arrived in the mail last night! My other lenses have always done what I needed them to do, but I wanted to have a 50mm f/1.8 in my camera bag so I could try it out and then illustrate in my classes (and here on the blog) exactly what can be done with it. This particular one is for Nikon cameras, but you should be able to find one for any DSLR.
I talk more extensively about this lens in a previous post, answering the question, “But I already have an 18-55mm lens, and that includes the 50mm length. So, why would I need a fixed 50mm lens?”
You may want to check out that post to learn more about the lens and find out which one you need for your specific camera.
Creating Sample Images with the New Lens
After taking my new lens out of the box this morning, I was excited to give it a try. At the same time, we were taking down the Christmas tree — finally, it’s already January 19th! — so this cute little truck ornament seemed to be a good test subject. I put my Nikon D300 camera on a tripod and shot a series of images in aperture mode, varying the aperture from the most open (f/1.8) to the most “stopped down” (f/22).
I got as close as I could to the ornament while still being able to focus. (If you get too close with a lens that’s not a macro lens, the camera won’t let you focus.) The quality would be even better had I realized the camera was set to 1600 ISO, but I didn’t figure that out until the tree was gone and it was too late to retake the images.
Above image was shot at f/1.8. Both pine cones are very out of focus.
Above images was shot at f/5.6. Compare the background in this image to that in the images above and below to see the relative amount of background blur. If you are limited to the lens that came with your camera (frequently the 18-55m 3.5-5.6 lens) 5.6 is probably the most you can open your aperture when zoomed to 50mm, so this is the most blur you would be able to create.
Above image was shot at f/22. Everything is in focus, including both pine cones and the pine needles toward the back of the tree.
Above image was shot at f/22. With a such a large depth of field, everything is in focus and it’s just a busy mess.
Above image was shot at f/2.8. I had the camera on a tripod in both shots so they would be framed exactly the same. Look what a difference it made when I selectively focused on the plant closest to me. I know it’s just a photo of dead flowers in my yard, but now the photo actually has an identifiable subject.
How I Created this Blog Post’s Intro Image
So, after I had some fun playing around with the new 50mm f/1.8 lens, it was time to create an image to lead into this blog post. I didn’t want a plain old boring shot of the lens. You can get one of those anywhere! While I was thinking about creating the image, I got distracted, started Googling this, that and the other thing, and came across an interesting Youtube video by this PhotoExtremist.com guy. I watched his video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPcdWxhLwoA) and thought “that’s how I’m going to photograph this lens!”
I couldn’t actually use the 50mm lens since I was going to be photographing it, so I put my 85mm f/1.8 lens on my D300 and set it to aperture priority at f/2.2. Normally, I would have used the camera in manual mode. But it was Saturday night, and I didn’t feel like it. Instead, I messed around with the exposure compensation, and found I needed to tell the camera to underexpose by about one stop. I put the camera on a tripod, moved in as close as I could while still being able to focus, and set the white balance for 2500K since I was using just about all artifical light and the higher Kelvin temperatures were producing images that were too yellow. If your camera doesn’t allow you to set the Kelvin temperature, you could try setting your white balance to tungsten or incandescent.
For my setup, I draped a fuzzy blue blanket over one of the chairs in my living room, piled a string of Christmas lights (handy, since I was still working on taking down the tree) toward the back of the chair, and placed the lens on the edge of the chair closest to me. I placed a business card between the blanket and the chair to keep the front part of the lens from sinking down too much into the blanket. To light the lens I used a cheap clip light with a compact fluorescent bulb. Below is a pulled-back view of the setup. It was almost there, but not yet perfect.
I was very happy with the resulting image I got with this setup until I realized there was absolutely no detail along the side of the lens. It was completely in shadow. Check out the next image to see the resulting image. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize my error until I’d packed up everything and put it all away.
I went about the rest of my evening, satisfied that I’d gotten such a good image, but the fact that I couldn’t see any details in the shadow-side started to bug me. Some photographer know-it-all was surely going to see my post and write a scathing comment about it. Being the obsessive-compulsive person I am, I had to fix it. I pulled the Christmas lights back out of the box, took the blanket out of the bag I’d packed for tomorrow’s newborn photo session, threw the cats into the guest room so they wouldn’t knock the lens off the chair, and tried again.
While I was taking the photo I reached out and held the lid so that it would reflect light back onto the lens, so it was not positioned quite like this while taking the actual shot. I had to move it around until I saw the light reflecting back onto the lens the way I wanted it.
You can click into the image to see a larger version, and to see how the addition of a little extra light from the reflector now enables us to see detail on the side of the lens.