6 Techniques for Efficiently Mastering Your Camera Lenses

In the realm of photography, those who are knowledgeable understand that the lens holds significant importance, contrary to the belief held by inexperienced photographers that the camera itself is of utmost value. Seasoned photographers are aware that the lens plays a crucial role in various aspects of capturing images, such as enhancing image sharpness, determining autofocusing speed, controlling the field of view, creating background blur, increasing flexibility in low-light shooting, and offering countless other benefits.

Once you possess a high-quality lens, it becomes crucial to maximise its potential. how can you become proficient in understanding its characteristics, focal lengths, and distinctive approach to capturing the world, allowing you to produce stunning photographs?

Throughout my years of experience in working with glass, I have gained valuable knowledge on how to acquaint oneself with a new lens or enhance one’s understanding of existing lenses. In this informative article, I will provide you with my expert advice on navigating this process. This includes practical tests, exercises, and general tips to successfully approach new lenses.

Are you prepared to become an expert in using your lenses? If so, let’s begin right away!

1. Dedicate a month to using only one lens exclusively

According to Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers,” it is widely recognised that achieving mastery in a particular skill requires 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. Although this concept is often applied to overall photography, it can also be relevant to using a specific lens. By consistently using the same lens over a significant period of time, one can undoubtedly develop an in-depth understanding and familiarity with that particular lens.

If you possess several lenses and utilise them frequently, particularly for upcoming paid sessions, there is no need to be overly cautious about this. Simply endeavour to bring one lens with you during a shoot, and if you manage to continue this pattern for consecutive days, it is indeed remarkable.

During my portrait sessions, I typically opt for a single lens. In this particular session, I had only brought along an 85mm short telephoto lens. If you are looking for the ideal travel lens look no further than Canon EF-M lenses.

If you enjoy the experience of using only one lens, you can challenge yourself by extending this practice for a longer duration, such as a week, a month, or even more. The choice is yours, but the more time you devote to using that particular lens, the more proficient you will become in visualising its perspective even before you bring the camera to your eye. This will enable you to compose shots in your mind before looking through the viewfinder, resulting in a significant increase in the number of successful photos you capture.

To achieve optimal results, it is recommended to perform this exercise using a prime lens; however, it can also be adapted for zoom lenses. If you opt for a zoom lens, it is advised to initially select and maintain a specific focal length. While exploring the lens’s capabilities, it may become necessary to experiment with different focal lengths, but starting at one focal length is a wise approach.

2. Evaluate the performance of your lens across all aperture settings

To truly master a lens, it is crucial to understand its performance. It should be noted that the performance of each lens differs across its range of apertures. Therefore, I strongly advise investing time in familiarising yourself with the specific lens you wish to master and thoroughly evaluating its performance at various apertures.

To gather information about the performance of your lens, you can either print a test chart or create your own. Next, attach your camera to a tripod and capture a series of photographs, progressively adjusting the aperture from its widest to narrowest settings. Keep in mind that lens sharpness tends to be compromised at both extremes, so it’s not unexpected to observe softness in the resulting images. However, it’s important to pay attention to the finer details as well. Assess the sharpness of your lens at its widest aperture and evaluate the level of detail it captures. Similarly, analyse its performance at the narrowest aperture and form your opinions based on the observed results.

In order to better remember the details, it can be beneficial to jot down notes for each aperture you test. Additionally, after completing the tests, it is important to reflect on the implications of the results for your photography.

If you frequently employ narrow apertures while capturing photographs, it is crucial to determine the point at which diffraction-induced blurring becomes a significant issue. Conversely, if you lean towards wider apertures, it is worth considering whether shooting at maximum aperture will yield adequately sharp images, or if a slight adjustment is necessary.

If you enjoy achieving a shallow depth-of-field effect but face difficulties with your lens when using wide apertures, it is important to strike a balance between bokeh and image quality. To illustrate, I have noticed that when capturing portraits with a short telephoto lens, optimal outcomes are achieved at an aperture setting of f/2.8. By choosing f/2.8, I can ensure that the majority of my subject’s face remains in focus while still achieving a visually pleasing bokeh effect.

Of course, different apertures suit different people, so see which one works for you.

Please pay close attention to the following section if you are using a zoom lens instead of a prime lens.

3. Testing the performance of a zoom lens at various focal lengths

Testing prime lenses is a relatively straightforward process: You can begin by printing a test chart, setting up your camera, and capturing images at different apertures.

When it comes to zoom lenses, the situation becomes a bit more intricate. This is due to the additional factor of focal length. Sharpness is not only influenced by the aperture, but also by the focal length. It is rare for zoom lenses to provide exceptional optical quality throughout their entire range of focal lengths. Therefore, if you truly wish to comprehend your lens, it is necessary to conduct tests at different focal lengths.

It is crucial to note that dividing your lens into distinct focal lengths is necessary. By conducting the appropriate tests, you can gradually develop a better understanding and broaden your perception of each subject.

4. Utilise physical movement during Zoom meetings

Regardless of whether you prefer a prime lens or a zoom lens, it is beneficial to become adept at adjusting your framing by physically moving closer to or further away from your subject instead of relying solely on the zoom ring. This technique, known as “zooming with your feet,” allows you to modify the size of your subject within the frame without depending on the zoom capability of the lens.

For individuals who are familiar with zoom lenses, the concept can be understood as having multiple prime lenses bundled into a single lens. To illustrate this, let’s consider an example with an 18-55mm kit lens. Depending on the focal length, the lens will function and produce different results. At 18mm, it functions as a wide-angle lens, ideal for capturing landscapes. Conversely, at 55mm, it transforms into a short telephoto lens suitable for portrait photography.

When it comes to perspective, the two focal lengths are quite distinct. A comprehensive understanding of perspective and its alterations when you approach or distance yourself from the subject can only be acquired by utilising a zoom lens at a fixed focal length. If you rely on adjusting the zoom ring to modify the subject’s size, you will not gain insights into perspective.

When using an 18-55mm lens set at 18mm, it is necessary to approach the subject closely in order to capture the striking perspective unique to wide-angle lenses.

However, when you have more distance from the subject, the viewpoint becomes considerably less sensational.

5. Capture Diverse Topics

When it comes to lenses, we commonly link them to certain subjects. For instance, wide-angle lenses are well-suited for capturing landscapes, while short telephoto lenses excel in portraiture.

However, what if you experiment a bit? What occurs when you employ a compact telephoto lens to capture landscapes or a wide-angle lens for capturing portraits? The concept here is to step out of your usual preferences and discover innovative approaches to utilise your preferred lenses, ultimately broadening your comprehension of their capabilities.

When it comes to using a wide-angle lens in portraiture, it becomes evident that getting too close to the subject can result in unappealing outcomes. However, by stepping back and incorporating more of the surrounding environment, a completely different approach can be adopted. Engaging in such experiments can expand one’s skill set, deepen understanding, and introduce fresh techniques to incorporate into one’s repertoire.

6. Stretch the boundaries of your compositions

To truly master a lens, I recommend pushing yourself to the limit. Explore each technique to its fullest potential and discover what it is capable of. By pushing your equipment to its extremes, you will gain a deeper understanding of its capabilities.

In case you possess a wide-angle lens, what occurs when you approach your subject as closely as possible? Additionally, what outcomes arise from using the lens’s widest aperture setting?

How can you effectively utilise the compressed perspective provided by a telephoto lens? Which subjects can you photograph to fully capitalise on the layered effect it offers?

That is the procedure of conducting experiments. It is important to note that not all experiments will be successful. However, when they are, you will be expanding your skill set.

Key pointers for becoming proficient in your lenses: closing remarks

Hopefully, these suggestions have provided you with insights on how to effectively use and familiarise yourself with your preferred lenses. Instead of daydreaming about your next lens purchase, dedicate some time to acquainting yourself with the lenses you already possess!

If you have a good understanding of photography, you may discover great satisfaction in exploring the full potential of the lenses you currently possess.