Why Prime Lenses Make You a Better Photographer

Prime lenses don’t have the convenience and versatility of zooms, but their limitations can help make you a better photographer.

Primes vs. zooms: it’s a debate almost as old as photography itself. Many photographers prefer prime lenses for their superior optics. Others like zooms because of their versatility. Whether one is better than the other is highly subjective. What sets prime lenses apart, though, is their ability to make us better photographers. Our latest original infographic explores this in detail.

“Zoom With Your Feet”

Zoom lenses can undoubtedly be convenient and versatile. Many wedding and event photographers swear by them as a result. If you’re just starting out, however, you’ll learn a whole lot more shooting with only primes. They make you work harder for the shot (more on this later). You naturally become more interactive when shooting with prime lenses. They train your mind to continually look for the action. You need to follow and move with your subjects. If you’re too far away from everything, zoom with your feet. Unlike with zooms, you can’t just stand in place and punch in with a prime lens. Since you’re always moving and paying attention to the action, you’re less likely to lose track of your surroundings too.

More Light!

Prime lenses generally have brighter maximum apertures than zooms. They allow more light in, making them ideal for shooting in low light environments. Your camera’s autofocus will also perform better with more light available. Prime lenses with faster maximum apertures can also render much more pleasing bokeh than zooms. It’s useful for isolating subjects from their surroundings. Distracting elements within the frame blurs away while your subjects remain in focus. Many portrait photographers prefer prime lenses for this reason.

Work For the Shot

The convenience factor of zoom lenses cannot be denied. However, you can also become over-reliant on the ability to zoom in. This can hinder your development as a photographer unintentionally. Unlike zooms, you’re locked into a single focal length when shooting with primes. This limitation will force you to think more critically and creatively. Instead of just zooming in, you literally have to “work the scene” to create the best possible image. You’ll have to move around to find the best angle, framing, and composition. Rather than merely capturing, prime lenses make you an active participant in the creative process.

Creative Limitations

Anyone can take a picture, but it takes an artistic vision to actually create an image. This is what sets real photographers apart. To realize the image you had conceptualized, you’ll need to overcome the limitations inherent with a single focal length. Since you can’t zoom in, you’ll need to look for alternatives. Can you shoot from a different vantage point? What framing would be most effective? These are just some of the questions you’ll need to ask yourself when working with primes. The more you shoot with them, the better you’ll become. It will mold you into a better photographer over time.

The Long Game

We’re not saying that you shouldn’t use zoom lenses at all. They can be downright essential in certain situations. As a creative challenge, however, consider shooting with just a single focal length for an entire year. You may be surprised by how much this limit will impact your creative process. Adversity breeds creativity, so give this a try if you’re in a creative rut.

Pauleth Ip

Paul is a New York City based photographer, creative, and writer. His body of work includes headshots and commercial editorials for professionals, in-demand actors/performers, high net worth individuals, and corporate clients, as well as intimate lifestyle/boudoir photography with an emphasis on body positivity and empowerment. Paul also has a background in technology and higher education, and regularly teaches private photography seminars. When not working on reviews and features for The Phoblographer or shooting client work, Paul can be seen photographing personal projects around NYC, or traveling the world with his cameras in tow. You can find Paul’s latest work on his Instagram over at @thepicreative.