Photographing New Zealand landscapes for a week with only a 50mm lens

Jun 8, 2018

Timmy Smalls

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Photographing New Zealand landscapes for a week with only a 50mm lens

Jun 8, 2018

Timmy Smalls

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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My photography peers thought I was mad. I thought I was mad, taking just a 50mm lens and one camera to the south island of New Zealand for a week. The rules were simple. Attempt to make compelling photographs with a 50mm lens using any creative methods I could conjure up. Panos, single frames, cropping in post, long exposures and filters were used, but only one lens.  My itinerary included Queenstown and the surrounding grand mountain-scapes followed by Milford Sound with its utter incredible, king of the world, spectacular life changing scenery. Could a 50mm lens, with its boring and uninspiring focal length live up to the big time landscapes of New Zealand?

GRAMS VS QUALITY

My trip to the south island of New Zealand had been planned for about 6 months. The initial idea was to hike the famous four day Milford Track, however two weeks leading up to the journey, my girlfriend’s knees became injured to the point of being unable to walk for extended periods. We had to unfortunately cancel the trek, however this opened up a different holiday. The sightseeing type from a hire car! Throughout 2017 I had been slowly investing in a lightweight camera system specifically for this hike. I found a great deal on a Sony A6000, then over time, bought a Samyang 12mm f2.0 and eventually the kit zoom lens. This would be my go-to choice for travel and hiking, weighing over 5 times less than the equivalent of my Canon gear.

Riverton Beach at sunrise

LIGHTBULB MOMENT?

After realising I didn’t need a lightweight camera system for hiking, I decided to take my Canon 5D MKIII. I knew the controls like the back of my hand and the weather proofing was also a factor for the wet Southland climate (Milford Sound on its own had 7 meters of rain last year). Instead of taking my 16-35mm and  70-200mm, I would settle on the trusty 50mm. Yes I can envision you shaking your head. Why on earth would I take just a 50mm lens to New Zealand? After being less than inspired with photography lately, I needed a challenge. That challenge was to only use the 50mm lens, while trying to capture the dramatic and intimate landscapes of southern New Zealand in a new light, so to speak.

I had not been this excited about photography since I can remember. The 50mm lens challenge reignited a creative spark inside me that was severely missed. This challenge was also a great opportunity to feel the 50mm focal length again. For weddings I mainly shoot with the 35mm/70-200 combo, so I know what to expect. Whereas the 50mm lens was unfamiliar ground, not owning one for quite a few years. Initially it was quite difficult to compose a photograph. The 50mm focal length is quite mundane. You cannot rely on distortion from a wide angle lens, or the beautiful compression from a telephoto. All you can rely on is filling the frame with something interesting.

NEW EYES

After shooting with the 50mm lens for a week, I came to the conclusion that it’s actually a great lens for landscape photography. The focal length just feels natural and so therefore feels just right. It feels like you’re right there, looking with your own eyes. Close enough to see the details, but wide enough to feel the bigger picture. Having one focal length also eliminates any wasted time changing lenses or umming and ahhhh-ing about what lens to actually use. You simply pull your camera out, and compose a photograph. It’s quite liberating and something I would definitely recommend to any photographer down in the dumps with no inspiration.

Please enjoy my gallery and follow my landscape photography on Instagram!

Camera: Canon 5D MKIII
Lens: Canon 50mm f1.2 L
Tripod: Really Right Stuff TVC 34L with RRS BH55 pano ball head
Polariser: Hoya screw in 77mm with step down ring
10 Stop ND filter: B+W 77mm screw in with step down ring

About the Author

Timmy Smalls is a wedding photographer from Melbourne, Australia, specializing in natural and outdoor vibes. If you’d like to check out is work, make sure to visit his website and follow him on Instagram and his Facebook page. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

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4 responses to “Photographing New Zealand landscapes for a week with only a 50mm lens”

  1. Guy Stevens Avatar
    Guy Stevens

    Great results! A 50mm is great for just about every job, until you need something specialized. A 50mm lives on my camera about 80% of the time and I do just fine with it in most scenarios.

    1. Aankhen Avatar
      Aankhen

      Same here: I only have a 50mm ?/1.8 and a kit 18–105mm ?/3.5–5.6. The image quality on the kit lens is abysmal, so I almost never pull it out. I use the 50mm for everything.

  2. Brad Maestas Avatar
    Brad Maestas

    I actually just got back from NZ today and over the last two weeks had spent most of my time on the south island. I took 21, 25, 35, 50, and 90mm primes with me but I ended up using the 35 almost exclusively and it was a blast.

  3. janaka Avatar
    janaka

    Me too