Out of My Comfort Zone, 50mm Failure?

Jan 31, 2018

In my opinion, street photography is one of the toughest genres of photography to master. Every day that I go out and shoot, I come back with a little bit more knowledge and confidence. I still have so much to learn, and I always look forward to getting out on the streets to shoot. But sometimes learning is like getting kicked in the shins. It is hard to take and hurts emotionally. Last week I had one of those days. After six hours of shooting out of my comfort zone with my new 50mm lens, I had only a handful of decent photographs to show for it. I headed home feeling frustrated and dejected. Was my day of street photography a failure? Below are my thoughts and feelings about the day.

1. Excitement

My husband gave me a new Fujifilm 50mm f/2 lens for Christmas (75mm full frame equivalent). Although I had played with it a bit, I hadn’t had a chance to take it out on the streets for a thorough test drive. Last Wednesday I finally got my opportunity. I was excited about the day and what it would bring. The forecast called for rain, which was perfect! Contrary to how many people feel, I love rain. And, I especially enjoy photographing in it! Just as an aside, genuine Vancouverites have evolved with either webbed feet or gills. We are used to the wet weather which runs from the start of September through the end of June! As long as I have a warm coat, waterproof shoes and an umbrella, I’m good to go!

2. Complacency

For the past two years, I have been shooting the majority of my street photography with either a 23mm or 35mm focal length lens (approximately 35mm and 50mm full-frame equivalent). Knowing where I need to stand to take in the scene and frame my subject has become second nature to me. With these focal lengths, I understand what their depth of field looks like when shooting wide open, and where I need to focus. I feel completely comfortable using these lenses. They have become an extension of the way I see. Unfortunately, as I found out on this day, my comfort with these focal lengths would be a tremendous obstacle to using my new 50mm lens.

Here is a small selection of images shot with my “comfortable” lenses.

3. Way Out of My Comfort Zone!

Today I was way out of my comfort zone! I was not sure where to stand or how close I needed to be to my subjects. As a result, I was missing shots because I was not in the right spot. I was cutting off feet and heads. In addition, my subjects kept landing in the wrong location within the frame when I lifted the camera to my eye. Shooting with a wide lens was much easier! Frustration was setting in! To make matters worse, with the rainy weather came dark skies. Because of this gloomy light, I was forced to shoot with wide apertures. The resulting narrow depth of field caused focus issues. The critical areas of my images were not sharp. More frustration!

Here are just two of the many photographs that illustrate some of the problems I was having. I won’t bore you with the rest!

4. Failure

On my ride home, I began to reflect on the day. Had street photography with my 50mm lens been a failure? I glanced at the back of my camera to review my images. However, my eyes are so bad that I couldn’t see the LCD screen well enough to determine if I had any decent shots! Pixel peeping would have to wait until I was home! I was hopeful I had a few keepers amongst the out of focus and poorly composed images.

5. Reflection

Once home, I downloaded my images, and my fears were confirmed. Of the 725 frames I shot, I ended up with ten shots I felt were worthy of a couple of stars. Unquestionably not my most productive day. However, upon further reflection, I saw a trend. As the day progressed, so did my keeper rate. I was getting better at framing and composing. And, my focusing was becoming more accurate. It was then I realized that “failure” was a relative term. Did I get as many keepers as I hoped? No. But, I was learning to see in a new way. I was developing a different viewpoint for my street photography. The images I created had a very different feel from those I had taken in the past. By stepping out of my comfort zone, I was broadening my creative vision. I was excited by what I saw.

6. Excitement Again!

The day was not a failure at all! It was a creative learning experience. Now I need to move forward, to take what I learned, and use it to become a better photographer with that focal length. I can’t wait to get back out on the streets with my 50mm lens.

So, I urge you to spend a full day of photography shooting out of your comfort zone. Shoot with a prime lens or a new focal length. Take pictures in portrait mode all day. Ask strangers if you can create portraits of them. And yes, you will have failures, many failures. But don’t let that deter you. Give it your full effort. Study and learn from your failures. I can guarantee your new way of seeing will lead to many future successes. As Albert Einstein said, “Failure is success in progress.”

For more on shooting out of your comfort zone, see my articleMy Self-Imposed 23mm Challenge with a Fuji X100T over at Photography Life.