Hi, we're Hunter and Sarah, a husband-and-wife, luxury wedding photography team. We’re also educators, helping other photographers build profitable and sustainable photography businesses.
When mentoring our Apprentices and coaching our students, camera gear is often one of the first conversation topics to come up, especially for new photographers. I wish we could count how many times we’ve been asked “What lens should I buy next?”
Although we first wrote this blog series, “Camera Bag Essentials” in the fall of 2018, we decided that we are well overdue for an update! We can still remember what it was like when our little photography side-hustle actually started to make some money, and maybe you’re in the same place now. Maybe that camera that you got as a present or bought for yourself a while back is actually generating some cash! But where do you go from here? What lens is best for your business? A 85 mm or a 50 mm or a 35 mm?!
When Sarah and I were in our first days of photography, we knew that we never wanted to go into consumer debt to purchase our gear (buying a lens on a credit card and paying it off over time), especially since it was just a hobby at first. So as soon as we finally started to make some money from our photography, we began stowing every dollar away a keeping our eyes out for that next piece of gear to buy (more on that concept here when starting a new photography business).
However, because we weren’t shooting that often and weren’t making that much money when we did, it took months of hard work to save up for that next piece of gear! Then, when we had done enough jobs, we’d “break the piggy bank” and pay cash for that next lens or camera body.
Our hope and prayer is that this blog entire series will help you think critically about what to invest in next as your business grows. So let’s dive right in.
Have you ever wondered how professional photographers get blurry backgrounds in their photos, when even your brand new Nikon D3500, Nikon Z50 or Canon Rebel can’t? Well, it isn’t the camera but actually the lens itself that makes the difference! Really, it all comes down to something called “aperture”. Aperture is one of three settings that photographers primarily use to control their images, and is essentially a measure of how wide your lens can open up and let light into your camera’s sensor.
When your aperture is “closed-down” (when your aperture or “f-stop number” is high like f/16 of f/22), then you’ll get photos that are in-focus from the foreground to the background. Landscape photography uses higher aperture numbers to make sure that the entire image is in crystal-clear focus.
However, as portrait and wedding photographers, we want to make sure that our subjects are the star of their show, and the rest of their environment takes a back-seat. This means we want our aperture “wide-open” (a low aperture or f-stop number like f/1.4 or f/1.8). When you do this, you can capture images with razor sharp focus on your subject, but silky-smooth backgrounds that don’t distract the eye.
So what are prime lenses, and what do they have to do with aperture? It’s actually easier to first describe what prime lenses aren’t; they aren’t zoom lenses! In all likelihood, your first camera included a “kit lens” — a basic zoom lens with a focal length from 18-55 mm or 18-105 mm. However, the minimum aperture was likely f/3.5 when zoomed out at 18mm, and f/5.6 when zoomed in at 55 mm.
If this doesn’t mean anything to you yet, don’t worry – all that you need to know is that that isn’t a very wide aperture. Each of the three lenses we discuss below have a minimum aperture of f/1.8, which is significantly “faster” (lower f-stop, wider aperture) than the lens that likely came with your first camera! However, when it comes to light, there’s always a trade-off. How do lens-makers get an aperture so low on prime lens? Often, it means they’ve essentially removed its ability to zoom (or made it heavier or more expensive).
So, to summarize, a prime lens has two distinguishing characteristics: it cannot zoom (has only one focal length, 50 mm for example) and it has a wide aperture when compared to zoom lenses (like a minimum of f/1.8 or f/1.4). This makes them great for low-light situations, or for portraiture when a blurry background is desired! Since most photographers get their start capturing portraits or events for friends and family, we suggest that every photographer’s first investment (once they have a camera) is in a nice beginner prime lens!
Nikon and Canon each have dozens of prime lenses for sale. Sarah and I currently own seven prime lenses 😂 But for beginning photographers who are trying to grow their arsenal without breaking the bank, we recommend purchasing one of the following lenses as your first prime lens:
Well, we hope that this has been helpful for everyone looking to make their first investment in photography gear! Each week we’ll be talking through our favorite pieces of gear and why we bought them, and hopefully helping you figure out exactly what you need to achieve your photography goals!
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If you’re planning to purchase anything that we talked about today and we helped you make your decision, it would mean SO much to us if you purchased it through the links below! You’ll pay the same price as you normally would on Amazon, but Amazon would share a small slice of the profit with us. You’ll get what you need, support a small local business (us), and show us that our advice really has been helpful! Thanks! [Prices shown as of date of publishing, and are just for comparison/reference]
For Mirrorless Z Cameras:
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