Why use a 50mm lens for travel photography? And how do you capture great 50mm travel photos?
I’m a big fan of 50mm lenses and 50mm tracking; in fact, for the first two years that I owned a camera, my 50mm f/1.4 lens was the only the one I used. In this article, I explain five reasons why I recommend a 50mm lens for travel photography. I’m also including a handful of tips to help you take your 50mm shots to the next level, fast!
Let’s dive into it.
5 reasons to use a 50mm lens for travel photography
While there are many reasons to do 50mm travel photography, here are my top 5:
1. 50mm lenses are small and light
In travel photography, weight is a big issue. You want to carry a light load; this way your travels can be as convenient and comfortable as possible.
Of course, the best way to avoid a heavy load is to pack essential, small and light gear. The 50mm lens fits these three categories.
Most 50mm lenses weigh only 5.6–6.6 oz (160–190 g). Even short kit lenses are heavier than 50mm lenses, but produce lower quality images and offer narrower maximum apertures.
Additionally, a standard 50mm prime lens mounted on a camera will take up much less space than any zoom lens. This makes them easier to pack (and makes them less noticeable when you want to capture candid photos). A small camera with a 50mm lens can fit in a jacket pocket or day pack. This way, you won’t need to carry a dedicated camera bag everywhere when traveling.
2. 50mm lenses offer wide maximum apertures
Most 50mm lenses have a maximum aperture of f/1.8 or f/1.4. (Some 50mm lenses offer even wider apertures; I’ll talk about that later in this article.)
A “fast” lens like this allows you to choose a faster shutter speed, which is extremely useful when the light is poor. If you’re shooting indoors, in a cave, or at night, a fast lens comes in handy. With a 50mm prime lens, you can let in two or three more stops of light than an average kit zoom. It’s a big problem.
Wide apertures also produce nice background blur (i.e. bokeh). If you want to blur the background, start by selecting a large aperture! This effect looks great and also allows you to isolate your main subject so it stands out in the frame. I find that by setting my 50mm lens to f/1.4 I can capture beautiful travel portraits with background blur but enough detail to add context.
3. 50mm lenses are cheap
Anyone traveling on a budget – and yes, that’s most of us! – enjoys saving a few dollars when planning a trip. Luckily, adding a 50mm lens to your gear inventory isn’t going to break the bank.
You can usually pick up a 50mm f/1.8 prime lens for around $100-$350, and if you’re willing to buy used, you can go even cheaper. You won’t get the awesome bokeh and extra light offered by an f/1.4 lens, but you can still capture great travel shots.
4. 50mm focal length is very versatile
Once you get your hands on a 50mm lens, you’ll understand the awesome versatility of focal length. You can capture close-ups, medium shots, and even wider scenes.
Really, you can use a 50mm lens to shoot most subjects. It is ideal for formal portraits, environmental portraits, architecture, details and much more! You can even use it to photograph food, landscapes and architecture.
5. 50mm prime lenses are sharp
As I mentioned above, 50mm lenses aren’t terribly expensive, but they offer surprisingly high quality optics.
If you want to capture sharp travel images (and who doesn’t?), a 50mm lens will do a great job. On the other hand, you’ll be hard pressed to find a kit zoom as sharp as a 50mm lens. You see, zoom lenses contain a lot of glass, which means that light has to pass through more before reaching the sensor to create an image. The light becomes more diffracted and the image is less likely to be sharp.
Tips for 50mm travel photography
Now that you know Why 50mm travel photography is a good idea, time to discuss it How? ‘Or’ What you can get great 50mm shots! Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your 50mm lens when traveling.
1. Make sure you buy a 50mm f/1.8 or f/1.4 (not an f/1.2)
You might not realize it, but the f/1.8 and f/1.4 versions of a 50mm lens offer some significant advantages over the f/1.2 or faster varieties.
First, 50mm f/1.8 lenses are much cheaper than f/1.2 lenses, and even 50mm f/1.4 lenses are reasonably priced. But once you upgrade to f/1.2, you’ll be paying a lot more!
And you probably don’t want to shoot at f/1.2 anyway. Using an f/1.2 aperture takes a lot of practice, as it’s easy to miss the focus point and spoil the shot. Even at f/1.8 or f/1.4, keeping the good part of the composition sharp is a challenge for many photographers.
Finally, the f/1.8 and f/1.4 lenses are small compared to most faster 50mm lenses. It depends somewhat on the brand, but in general if you’re concerned about size and weight, it’s best to leave a 50mm faster at home.
2. Move your feet for better comps
If you’re used to traveling with a zoom, you might be used to zooming in to adjust your framing, but with a prime lens, if you want to change your composition, you need to movement.
Really, no matter what type of goal you have, moving is a good thing. This will help you find more interesting compositions. When I teach my travel photography workshops, I often have to get people to travel more, which results in much better shots. Your first composition is not always the best!
Of course, with a 50mm prime lens on your camera, you’ll be forced to move frequently. In my experience, the more you use a prime lens, the more you’ll automatically start checking other perspectives when you find a good subject to shoot – and the more amazing images you’ll come away with.
3. 50mm lenses are great for travel panoramas
If you love capturing majestic, wide-angle images when traveling, you might be worried; after all, if you’re shooting with a 50mm lens, you’re giving up the wide perspective, right?
Not necessarily! Because even though a 50mm lens doesn’t provide a wide-angle field of view, you can develop its focal length capabilities by creating multi-view panoramas. Bonus: 50mm lenses tend to avoid distortion, making it easier to create seamless panoramas.
Simply mount your setup on a tripod, then slowly rotate the camera while taking pictures. (Aim to overlap each shot by about 30%.) You can quickly stitch the resulting files together in post-processing, and – voila! – you will have a nice “wide angle” shot.
4. Use your 50mm lens for a full month
If you want to get good at 50mm travel photography quickso here is my recommendation:
Put your 50mm lens on your camera. And don’t take it off for a whole month.
Every day (or as much as you can), go out to shoot. Experience the 50mm field of view. Learn his framing. See its depth of field effects.
At the end of the month you will be a 50mm expert!
50mm Travel Photography: Final Words
Don’t be afraid to travel with minimal gear. It can actually help you become a more creative photographer! With a lighter camera bag, you’re free to move around and won’t feel so tired at the end of the day.
Take a 50mm lens. Get out. And good travel !
Now your turn :
Are you planning to use a 50mm lens on your next travel outing? Why or why not? Share your opinion in the comments below!