I imagine that most of you clicked on this link to figure out what the heck a prime lens is, and that’s exactly why I decided to write this post! I try not get too technical on the blog, but prime lenses account for a large part of my style, so I feel it’s important to share a bit about what makes them so special. To break it down, a prime lens has a fixed focal length, meaning there is no zoom feature. If you’ve ever seen me during a shoot then you know how I’m constantly changing lenses and running around like a crazy person, and this is why!
So why go out of my way to make life harder on myself? Because I love bright, airy images. The ability to zoom in may be convenient, but prime lenses generally offer wider apertures (lower f-stops). This means I can let in more light while also achieving blurrier backgrounds! Not only do I love this look stylistically, but it’s also a huge practical benefit when I’m working in low-light conditions. Don’t get me wrong, flashes are necessary in the world of a wedding photographer, but I try to keep images looking as natural as possible, even as it starts to get dark on a wedding night. The ability to let in more light with prime lenses means I can work without a flash for a larger duration of the day. This is both convenient and just plain pretty!
Compared to zoom lenses, prime lenses are also made with less glass and moving parts so the focus tends to be sharper. When shooting wide open, this helps me to separate my subject from the background for a clean, crisp look. It may take a little extra time to get the focus just right, but when done correctly, nothing can beat a prime lens portrait! As a bonus, the lenses are also physically lighter which makes a huge difference when I carry it around my neck for eight hours at a time!
If you’re curious, my favorite lens is my 85mm f/1.4 (which I used to take the photo above). This lens does an amazing job of compressing the background, which is just a fancy way of saying that it appears to pull the background closer to the subject. Can you see how the lake and sand almost appear flattened, while Elena really pops in the foreground? On a more basic level, the 85mm also allows me to stand a nice distance from my clients without being up in their personal space! This is especially great to capture moments from afar on a wedding day.
So there you have it! My case for using exclusively prime lenses. Hopefully this wasn’t just a bunch of photographer jargon, but if it was, here is the the bottom line: non-zoom lenses give me softer backgrounds, sharper subjects, and brighter images. So next time you see me lugging around my camera bag and walking in and out, I promise I’m up to something good!
(As a bonus, you can now you can throw around the term “prime lenses” like a true professional- it’s okay, I gave you permission.)