Photographing with one lens

Flowers and old building in Oxford England

If you’ve been following us here long enough, you know that I love my toys.  I get excited about using different lenses, filters (yes Jack I still use my blue/gold filter), and gizmos (like a child’s prism).  You can probably imagine how I felt, when I found myself only being able to take one camera and one lens for a week in Oxford, England.  I was there for work, and had to limit my photography to the transition time to walk between buildings.  So here is what I learned, when I pushed out of my comfort zone of nature photography… camera, one lens, and the street.

I took my Fuji XT2 and the 18-135mm lens.  Ok, well I actually took two cameras.  I found enough room to pack my Canon infrared point and shoot.  I was surprised at the variety of images I was able to make, and found that I had to be more creative in post-processing because I was often shooting in harsh light.

Lesson #1 – You don’t need a macro lens to shoot flowers

I know we all know this.  But I like to use my macro lens for flowers; I see in telephoto – close-up.  So this was a challenge, but I found I was able to improve the depth-of-field for elements that were on the same plane.  I also had to work harder to separate the main subject from the background in order to blur out the distractions.

Red Daisies

Lesson #2 – look for the extraordinary in the ordinary

I was in a college town, there were a ton of bikes, and yet they kept capturing my attention.  I finally stopped and spent some time “working the scene” to figure out what made bikes here in Oxford so unique.  It wasn’t really the bike, but the environment in which people bike….old buildings, fresh flowers, crumbling walls……If I was using my trusty telephoto, it would not have been wide enough to capture this scene.

Bike underneath flower baskets

Lesson #3 – Isolate, but make sure you include a sense of place

This was hard for me.  I like to focus in, to isolate a subject (with a good telephoto).  Isolating on the street you run the risk of losing the sense of place.  This statue, for instance, I took 10 pictures isolating him against the sky.  But the image I really liked was this one, where he is placed in his environment in front of an old majestic building.  The challenge is to isolate just enough to remove distractions and yet make a declarative statement.  I guess there is a need for wide angles.

Bearded man statue in front of old building

Lesson #4- Look for patterns

I gravitate toward patterns in nature.  I typically use my mega-zoom lens or a macro lens and isolate the repetition.  In the street however, its one big chaotic jumble of life.  When I found these boats, I was frustrated by not being able to zoom in enough (you will notice the unusual crop – I did this in post to get the image I saw when I was there).  With one lens, sometimes you have to settle and do the undesirable, crop later.

Boats lined up

Lesson #5- Focus on the moment, not the equipment

One camera, one lens… tripod.  I was frustrated.  It was dusk, the light was fading, I’m not steady, and I saw this street.  Rather than lament, I didn’t have my tripod, I raised the ISO, tested the patience of my friends as they stood there waiting for me to find just the right moment, and finally this woman biked down.  This was one of a handful of shots.  The others had compositions that were distracting – I wasn’t focused in enough, big buildings on the side squeezing the viewer, way off-kilter placement of the light.  Working with one lens forced me to work with what I had, to come up with a framing….as Jack would say….that’s not horrible.

Woman on bike in Oxford England


  1. shaunkellett

    Great post with some fantastic tips! There’s things here for everyone to pick up, be them new to the field or old ‘pros’. Photography is so, so much more than the equipment we use, it’s about the things you mention here like patterns, moments, and moving yourself rather than your subject or lens. When I’m out shooting on a Wedding or event, you sometimes don’t have time to pick the right lens for the occasion. It’s about shooting what you can, when you can, and capturing some moments in time… It’s a great exercise, trying to utilise one lens, great post!

    1. pamphotography

      Thank you for your kind words! I’ve often told people I think wedding photographers are the elite of photographers – so much pressure, no “do overs”, and engaged the whole time to capture the key moments….

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