canon lens

Using A Zoom Lens The Right Way

Zoom lenses are a great asset to photographers, especially the more expensive kind with excellent optics, wide-open apertures, and various stabilization technologies. The problem is, many photographers use them like it looks like they are supposed to be used and not how they should be used.

Most people stand at a comfortable distance from their subject and then use the lens’s adjustability to frame the subject as they desire. That would seem to make sense. After all, it’s a zoom lens. Isn’t that what it’s for?

Well, you are certainly free to do that, but when you start to compare your images and wonder why yours does not seem to be as compelling as other people using the same lens, then maybe that will clue you in that something is up.

True, there are other variables to consider, like the deep understanding of composition, seasoned understanding of their camera, the delicate balance of exposure, etc. But a good photographer usually has some experience under their belt. And one of the experiences they possess is the understanding of how to employ a zoom lens properly.

The simple answer for this is, use your feet to zoom and not the lens. Pick the desired focal length on the lens based on what you are trying to do, then use your feet and either get closer or move further away to frame your subject as you want.

Any great old school photographer will tell that the best lenses are often prime lenses. Regardless of price. Want a group shot at a wedding? Grab a 24mm prime, set the Aperture for F/5.6, and you get everyone in and a great DOF to make sure the entire party is in focus. Want a great Portrait with fantastic background blur? Grab a 200mm prime, set the aperture for F/2.8, step way back, and shoot away.

But accumulating a rolling trunk full of fixed focal length lenses may not seem practical. One lens with a lot of options in focal length is a more efficient solution. But, use it as a small box of fixed focal length lenses. Not like a zoom lens.

For instance, an 18-200mm lens is a popular kit lens coupled with a lot of entry-level cameras. But you should not just stand flat-footed and zoom in until you like the framing. Remember what we discussed in Episode 110? DOF has three variables. The focal length is one of them. So decide what you want for DOF. Need everything in focus? Zoom out to make you DOF grow. Want a headshot with background blur? Zoom in to shrink your DOF. Then use your feet and frame it as you want.

There will be situations that require you to use the adjustability in the lens to adjust the framing. But you should use your feet whenever possible.

Making these more thought out and calculated decisions, will make you a better photographer, and give you better results. So use your feet more, and your hands less.