Why the 35mm lens is great for travel photography

I celebrated a birthday last month and, to my surprise, received a precious 35mm Nikon f/1.4 lens for my present. I’ve been eyeing the 35mm lens for a few months. In fact, I had even started to use my 24-120mm lens at a 35mm fixed zoom.

The Internet sings the praise of certain lenses like the 50mm, but after just 2 weeks of shooting exclusively with the Nikon 35mm, it’s quickly become my go-to lens of choice, replacing the 50mm in my camera bag. Here are 7 reasons why I believe the 35mm f/1.4 lens is great for travel photography.

1. Versatility

A travel photographer shoots portraits, landscapes, food, and street photography. The 35mm is great for dealing with variety of situations. I’ve seen street photographers, fashion, food photographers, and wedding photographers use it alike.  It’s just wide enough to capture environmental shots like landscapes, and the have the depth of field needed for portraits. At such a versatile distance, the 35mm replaces the need for carrying many more lenses in the camera bag, and I’m always happy to have lighter gear.

2. In the action 

Unlike a telephoto that allows you the luxury of staying afar while shooting, the 35mm demands that you get into the action to capture the shot. For travel photographers shooting in cities and on streets, this is a great habit to get into. Practice getting closer to the action and getting over the fear of photographing strangers will generate better images. Why use a telephoto when you can use your able body?

3. Performance in low light situations

With a f/1.4 aperture, the 35mm lens performs well in low light while keeping the images sharp. The challenges of shooting in low light is deserving of another blog post in itself, so any lens that can hold its own in low light is high on my list.

4. Subject in the environment

Unlike the 50mm which, for me, always ends up being too tight in most situations, the 35mm is the perfect combination of capturing the subject and the environment. More and more, environmental portraits are becoming integral to my travel portfolio and I find that the 35mm delivers the environmental context without sacrificing the intimacy with the subject.

5. No distortion 

The other day, a friend was complaining that shooting with her 16-35mm distorted people’s faces around the edge of the photograph and asked me if I experienced the same with my 35mm. Unfortunately, anything wider than a 20mm will show distortion on people and she was shooting at a 16mm, but luckily for me, the 35mm gives me no problems – it’s just wide enough without being too wide.

6. Sweet bokeh

When you push the lens to anything wider that f/1.8, you get the lovely bokeh effect that most people love. At aperture f/1.4, the 35mm gives you bokeh off the hooks.

7. Better than zoom

In recent months, I’ve come to realize that prime lenses are better than zoom for crafting your photography skills. In most instances, zoom lenses just make us lazy. Just like I mentioned in #2, we no longer have to move our bodies with a zoom lens. But at one fixed distance, a prime lens  forces the photographer to be creative, to truly understand the lens, and to think about how to make great images at a set distance.

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2 responses to “Why the 35mm lens is great for travel photography

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