Lenses 101: A Guide to Shooting with Primes | Indeana Underhill | Skillshare

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Lenses 101: A Guide to Shooting with Primes

teacher avatar Indeana Underhill, Cinematographer & Photographer

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

6 Lessons (22m)
    • 1. About the Class

    • 2. Your Project

    • 3. What is a Prime Lens?

    • 4. Testing Primes

    • 5. Choosing Your Primes

    • 6. Conclusion

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About This Class

Lenses 101: Shooting with Primes

In this class, we will discover how to shoot with primes. Forget zooming in, how do we pick and choose a prime specific to an image? How do we know which to choose for a shoot? Which one do we start with? What are the benefits and drawbacks when compared to zooms?

These are the guiding questions for this class and for your approach to shooting with primes. We will learn abut what a prime lens is and how to use it to take great photos. This knowledge will further your photographer and also allow you to be more confident on shoots. 

Be creative, daring and take great photos!

For more of my photography classes ranging from beginner principles to intermediate development: 


Automatic to Manual Mode: The 3 Things You Need to Know


Amateur to Freelance: How to Develop a Portfolio


The Travelling Photographer: Choosing the Right Gear for Your Journey



Lens Choice: A Beginner's Guide


Lenses 101: Creativity with Vintage Lenses & DIY Filters



Lens Filters: Pushing Your Still Images


Advanced Lens Choice: Editing In-Camera


For more of my work, you can check out my instagram or website.



Meet Your Teacher

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Indeana Underhill

Cinematographer & Photographer


Indeana is a Canadian cinematographer based in Los Angeles. She is an Associate Member of the CSC, a member of the ASC MITC Lens Committee and a graduate of American Film Institute's Cinematography Conservatory Class of 2020. 

With over 35 credits, she has worked professionally in South Korea, Greece, Spain, Scotland, Argentina, Qatar, Egypt, Canada & the US. Her background in photography has enabled her to continue to tell diverse stories through her lens.





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1. About the Class: Hey, my name's Indiana and I'm gonna teach you about shooting with primes. Now I'm a lifestyle travel photographer, and that means lunch choices very specific and very particular. When I'm traveling, I can't bring all my lenses with me. So I have to choose a few the ones I normally choose air mix of zooms and primes. But it's the primes we really want to focus on because we can't change the vocal and former prime. How do we shoot with primes? How do we Pratt beforehand? How do we know which ones to select when we're on a shoot? So we don't look unprofessional, and we know exactly which ones we want to start with. And how do we establish a specific relationship with a client or subject based on the crimes you're taking? Now a prime can be an all around lens. It doesn't just have to be exhumed. Most important thing you need to know is how to use that prime. And in this class we're going to discover that through a hands on portrait tests, as well as explaining how primes air made and about what they can do for your image, we're gonna learn exactly how to shoot with primes and not be scared. Toe have only one focal length option. So I hope you'll join me for this class. Choosing your focal length shooting with primes. Thanks. 2. Your Project: this project in this class is super simple. All I have to do is take a photo with a Prem Lin's if you don't have a prime lens taken with zoom. But be aware that you cannot use the zoom factor at any point. You must move your body in order to get the phone. Oh, so when posting your image below for your project, make sure you say what folks like you shot at and why you were that distance from your subject and what that did to your image and why you like it. It's a fun project. It will get you thinking about your relationship to your subject moving and how close your body is to subject itself. So have fun and happy shouldn't. 3. What is a Prime Lens?: So what exactly is a prime lens? A prime lens is any lens that has a fixed focal length, so it's anything that's not a zoom lens. A fixed focal length lens will only allow you to do one focal length. Was it not be a 24 8 35 a 51 102 100 or 400? Whatever. It just will not allow you to change the focal length in the lens itself. You'll have to actually take off the lens and put another one on. The main difference between crimes and seems an appearance wise is the amount of rings on them. For automatic lenses. A problems will only have one ring, which is focused so you can play back and forth and distance to get your focus in your photo. A zoom lens will have two rings. One of them is for focus, and then the other one is to change your focal length. So you know it's a prime lens when you can't find the one to turn your different lengths to . If you're dealing with manual lenses, you'll be able to tell that there are then three rings on the zoom lens and two rings on a prime lens. A prime lens will only have the manual aperture manual focus, whereas the zoom lens will have three rings, a manual focus manual aperture and now the focal like ring to change between 24 to 70 or whatever the range. Maybe so. That's why when choosing primes, you have to be careful because they will only do one thing. They will not go to a different focal length, so make sure when buying them you know exactly what focal length you need and why that IHS . 4. Testing Primes: Hey, everyone say, Well, we're gonna be doing is looking at shooting specifically exclusively with prime lenses. So getting rid of our zoom lenses and focusing on fixed focal length lenses, also known as primes, today we're gonna be shooting with to varying focal lengths. That is a 50 millimeter cannon, 1.4 lens and a bigger guy, A 100 to a canon macro lens. These are two very different lenses like it very different effects. And if you watch the other classes or you know about photography beforehand, then you'll know that the BoE cake impression and artifacts in these lenses they're gonna be completely different when shooting at our subject. Who is Louise today? And so what we're gonna do is we're gonna show you how to shoot with different lenses, how that relationship changes when you're on shorter focal length sources longer and talking a bit more about your body and the subject and how to establish that relationship while shooting. So let's get to it. So the first thing you want to do when you have set up a shoot, whether that be with the client friend, some experimental stuff, whatever is to know what your kit is. So what lenses you already have in your bag and where you're gonna be shooting the environment of where you're gonna be shooting is completely dependent on what lenses you will be allowed to shoot with and what the minimum focal distance on them will be. So, for instance, outside today we have quite a bit of room to shoot. I can go pretty far back. I could probably shoot at a 1 80 or 200 mil lens without any issues. But if I was in a smaller room, if I was indoors or if I was in a smaller backyard, I would have a lot more issues with shooting. So keep that in mind. When you're choosing your focal length, pick out what the distance is between you and your subject. Also what mood you want to vote because you might be in a small room. But you want to shoot a lot further away because you want to be on a longer lens or you want more space around your subject without making them look distorted with a wide angle lens. All these things have to take into consideration when shooting with primes because when you get out into the field or you get out on a shoot or you get out on a set, you will not be able to zoom in or zoom out. We're thinking all about what a lens does to have face specifically today. So from now on, you want to get rid of that assuming factor, and you want to specifically think about what focal lengths are doing for you in each image . So after you've settled the distance out between you and your subjects and the environment , you'll be shooting in and you picked the lenses. You might also want to think about what lens you're going to start with. For instance, a 50 mil might be a bit who short to start with if you want to get a close up of someone, not only is going to give you a bit of distortion, and it's not our classic 85 mil beauty lens. But in addition, maybe I do not know Louise today, and it's our first time shooting as he's hired me to take some portrait photos of him for his boyfriend and he feels a bit uncomfortable. Well, maybe I want to be a bit further back. So what I would do is go on a longer focal length. I would probably started my 100 mil lens because that allows me to establish a greater distance between me and him to start with. So we're going to switch to our 100 Millon. So now that I've been able to change to my 100 mil lens, I will be shooting a bit further away from Louise. And that's because distance is really important. If you haven't established a relationship with them from Start and it's your first time shooting, you may want to start out to establish that you can assert yourself and that you're just photographing them and that there's really nothing to be nervous about. And so to do that we're going to start on 100 mill fixed focal length. So let's take a few photos. Let's see how they look and then we'll probably go into our short of focal lengths. Now we're in luck because we have the sun behind us, giving us a nice bit of glare coming in. Louise looks fantastic and we're getting that nice fall off in the background. But the most important thing to remind yourself is that distance. Maybe if they're a bit more timid, you want to stay fit further way and get all your wide shots now. So because I want to get a bit further away from my model with 100 because it's quite close and it's double what are 50 is. I'm able to get a bit further away, and I'm able to extend that distance so that we have a relationship together now and we have establish up. But also I can get on my wide shots in, or I can get all my fall off shots with Beautiful Bo. OK, you might have a different system where you start with the longer focal length. You go into a shorter fixed focal length and then you come back out when they're completely comfortable. The longer the focal length normally and beauty, the more beautiful the image. And that is because you get that nice fall off behind his shoulders. It's case is nice and round. There's not too much distortion, and it's a really good, longer focal length from in 85 to a 200 milk. But starting out a longer focal length is just beneficial in general. So I'm able to get these great shots because I'm on 100 and the most important thing you want to dio went on fixed focal lengths. The most important thing you want to do when you're on a fixed focal length because you're not zooming in and out and you're really paying attention to what this is doing is set all your settings up. So that's your shutter speed. I set an aperture, obviously, so you know what style you're going for. But you also want to be prepared to move your body. That's the biggest tip when shooting with prime sources zooms is with zooms. I mean, you'll master on the camera, and then if you need to go in quickly, you're out quickly. You'll be able to do that, but with a prime, you really have to think about your body in the distance between you and your subject and also taking into consideration that relationship, but also what that distance is doing to your lens. If I was quite close to him like this on 100 we can see that we're getting just above the shoulders to the top of the head However, if I'm this far away, we've finally been able to get that nice pose where it's waist up. So you want to keep in mind how you're moving around the hardest things. Sometimes if you're starting out with primes is to think, Oh my God, what do I do now? I don't know how to move my feet. I find the law in teaching photography lessons is people kind of they know they want a shot and they know what this hundreds going to do for them. But they get in there and then all of a sudden it's too close for them and they don't think to themselves because you can't zoom that you can move back or you could move closer. So you want to be aware of where your body is in relation to your subject. Now you have the freedom to move wherever you want, and you're probably getting a lower aperture because the benefit of shooting with primes is there's less glass elements within the lens and less groupings of glass as well, meaning that you're normally getting a lower half stop. So you're able to increase that. Okay, when you go farther away, when you go closest. So the biggest things want to keep in mind when choosing a focal length are your the distance. You are between your subject based on the environment you're in and the type of look you're going for, because now you know compression and you know the results of shooting with different focal lengths from either the other videos or your experience in photography. So when you're choosing lenses, you know whether you want a wide the close up or a telephoto lens. So at 100 you know it's bringing out his best features. But let's say we go on a 50. So we've switched to our 50 mil lens, were shooting at a shutter speed of 200 won over 200 at an F 2.8, and I eso won 60 and we have the sun coming in from behind us. So we are getting a bit of glare, which I like personally. That's just my style. You might hate it, but we're going to be doing is testing our 50 now compared to our 100 melt lens. So we take a few shots. At 50 you'll be able to see how close. I'm getting to him now versus at the 100 why it was important to establish that relationship earlier on. So I might choose a 50 because I want to get more of that documentary feel, but still have that natural Bo OK, but not too much of a fall off. But it looks like he's not a part of his environment. Perfect. You can see how close if I wanted to get that cut off after the chin and above the forehead , How close I'm gonna have to be. This is close. If you don't know your client and you don't know your subject, it's a really good idea to start on that longer focal like because if I don't know Louise and I'm right here beside him, he might feel like a cameras in his face because it is. This is also a really nice way to get a different personality out of your subject. Depending on what you're trying to aim for in your photos. If I wanted to get that really romantic up close personal field, that's why I would choose my 50 because the framing is fantastic. If you wanted to kind of get that mood out of your subject that you are really close to them. You're gonna listen a specific mood versus when you're further away. That might have more confidence when you're further away. And then as soon as you're close to them, they might kind of shut down a little or shut off and you won want to establish a relationship again or two. Maybe that's look you're trying to get. Maybe we're trying to get him a bit more vulnerable and you want to be a bit closer because they're gonna be a bit more timid. Maybe that's the look you're going for, but that's how you're going to do. It is you're gonna move your body and you're going to know your local leg. Now I'm able to go back with my 50 and that same distance I was out of hunger. We're getting his entire body. One other thing to point out is that depending on each lens, when you're shooting with, primes will be a minimal focal distance on your lenses. On this one. It is 1.5 feet that I could be away from my subject until it won't focus on in anymore when I'm too close, I want to be aware of this before choosing your focal lengths because you might want toe. You might love the bow K that this gives you, but if it doesn't go past three feet and you don't know that before getting on to shoot and you want to get in even closer, you won't be able to cause your lens just won't focus. That's why I love shooting with telephoto lenses, macro telephoto lenses, because this one actually goes further in that my 50 will, which is a at one foot so I can get at one foot with him, and on that that's unnecessary. It would just get his I pretty much. But in essence, if you wanted to get really close and maybe didn't want to get the ire, their profile or really romantic side of their face or the hair standing up on the back of their neck, you would need to take into consideration how close this will focus and at what focal length your at anyway. Remember the relationship between lenses and vocal lengths versus distance from subject is that the wider angle your lens, the more that's going to be in focus with your depth of field and the closer you'll be able to focus in on your subject by moving into them. 5. Choosing Your Primes: so with prime lenses, it could be a bit difficult to know exactly which ones you may need. And through the ones you have, which ones to choose. It's easy to just bring them all. But of course, we don't want to do that to our back. And we also don't want to be fumbling around during a shoot playing with different prime lenses. We want to be prepared beforehand. So to know what different prime lenses you may need, you first want to look into the genre photographer, Your shooting. Is it wedding? Is it portrait? Is it beauty? Is it product? Is it live events? Is it sports? Is it birdwatching? What is it? And then you need to define what type of shots you're gonna be able to get based on how close or far you could be from your subject. Do you have that freedom or not? For live events, birdwatching or wildlife photography, you're gonna have to be maybe further away from your subject, whether that be an animal or a band, just because either environment won't let you or you don't spook off the animals. So for something like that, it might be a bit more of an obvious choice because you want to go with a telephoto lens, probably zoom lens. But for primes, a telephoto prime, and then for beauty or portrait, you really have a bit more creativity there because you're not having to go quite close with your lens. You can actually go close with your body. So for those times when you need to decide on a prime lens, you have to start thinking about what type of look you want, then, so genres out of the way. Now, what type of look are you going for? Do you want that documentary wide angle field? You want to distort their faces? Or do you wanna bring the background in the foreground together but still have that nice fall off orb okay behind their shoulders? Well, then you have to start looking at primes. The number one reason I love to shoot with primes is cause that lower F stop number in primes versus assumes that battle. The primes win with the F stop numbers. They're always going to be lower in comparison to their zoom counterpart focal lengths. That's because zoom lenses versus prime lenses zoom, have more glass elements in more groupings within the lens itself versus a prime lens has less elements of glass within it on, and it's a specific fixed focal lengths, so it doesn't have to adapt within. There's not as many moving parts, so with this I'd be able to get to a 1.4. This is a 50 millimeter 1.4. So my Lois F stop ISO one point for on my 24 to 105 year. Yeah, I can go to a 50. However, it's gonna cost me by shooting at a F four as my minimum not only is going to get rid of some of my brok, but as well. If I'm in an environment where I wanna have up the Ambien or natural light, I'm not gonna be able to do that. I'm losing effectively. Two stops of light. Obviously, the major drawback of shooting with primes, however, is the fact that you quickly cannot change your Focal Inc. You can quickly change your lens, but you can quickly change your focal length because of prime is a fixed focal length. So this is a 50. It's never gonna be a 35. It's never gonna be in 85. This ring is for focusing nothing else. However, on a zoo, 24 to 1 or five, obviously, I could go from a 52 a 24 to a one or five and 85 or anything in between. So that's when preparation really comes into play. You really need to know where you're shooting, how you're gonna be shooting and what obstacles might come in your way. It's important to know these things so that you can pack the right lenses that you don't over pack and that you're not constantly changing lenses. The thing that you don't wanna fall into is over packing lenses and then on the day of the shoot, having not come prepared, your continuing to switch out lens as every one or two shots when it's not your intention to do so, So preparation is key. How can you prepare? You can look at what you're gonna be shooting, how you're gonna be shooting them and what type of look you're gonna give them that comes down to any shoe. Regardless of whether you're too focal length or with whether you're choosing post processing effects, you always want to get in right in camera with your workflow. And so to do that, you want to prepare. You want to do the research? You want to know how much light is going to be available at that time of day or inside endures? You want to know where the natural light may be coming from where you want to hit that how you're gonna light a scene, how low you can go with your f stop. Is it going to be a 1.4 minimum, or is it gonna be a to eight minimum? Or is it gonna be a four minimum? All these things tie in and make you a better photographer about her planner about her business person. But it comes down to in the end, making you look more professional because not only are you getting the style you like, but you're getting it with the right lens. But the catch is this. Another major drawback with prime lenses is that thinking add up. Obviously, you're gonna be getting more prime lenses than you are zooms because zooms cover a wide range of things, whereas prime lenses or one fixed focal ng if you wanted to have the exact same range. That's within this soon Lin's but a little lower f stop. You're gonna have to choose. Focal is within this that you want to shoot, and you're gonna have to buy those in front in the equivalent in prime lenses. So obviously that's gonna add up. So the catch is that to get a 1.4 or 1.2 lens, the minimum you can go, it does go up in price. The lower the S stop number, the higher in price. So you do want to keep in mind exactly what lenses you're aiming to get your dreaming about and you really need, And then what f stop you're gonna really need. You can get a 51.8 prime lens for about 100 125 bucks used, which is a fantastic starter pylons. That was my favorite. And then I switch over to 1.4 and you will not be able to get me off of it. So remember before shooting to prepare end when planning for future shoots, know what lenses you're gonna need in advance 6. Conclusion: thanks for joining me for lenses. One of one shooting with crimes. If you have any questions, please feel free to post them below and start a discussion. Love to hear from you. Also remember poster projects where you're shooting specifically with a problem in explaining why and how did it and how you feel with the image. I hope that you enjoy shooting and that you are really developing your own skill set, including thinking about what crimes you may be shooting with next. And then in the future, all of my class shooting with zooms, where it will be able to discover the benefits and drawbacks of shooting with assumes. Or you'll get the full package 100% off all lenses, Thanks.