The Advantages of Using a Single Lens — Documentary Photographer Daniel Milnor


hello everyone a funny thing happened on the way home from Albania which gave me reason to make this film it’s something I’ve been thinking about for quite a while historically when I did documentary projects always carried two bodies and two lenses most of the time in my career that mental like a rangefinder and m4 and and m6 with a 35 up tune of 50 f/2 pretty basic stuff these days however I shoot Fuji I still have two bodies but I now have four lenses two of which I rarely ever use they’re basically four specific lens specific projects that I run into from time to time my trip to Albania was specifically about photography I knew that I’d be shooting every day all day long so my second body which I’m using to record this film I loaned to my wife along with the 35 millimeter or 23 millimeter in Fuji speak I knew once I loaned it to her I would never get it back which meant that I was down to one camera body and two lenses now the second lens I never took out of my backpack over a two-week period I did the entire trip every single photograph I made I did with this which is a 50 millimeter weather-sealed f/2 it’s very small it’s very light it’s very unobtrusive this is what I want to talk about today I bought my first 50 millimeter in 1993 and I had absolutely no idea how to use it I was a full-time photographer I was shooting for a major daily newspaper I had a degree in photojournalism and I literally had absolutely no idea how to be a photographer that’s pretty par for the course at the time there was a huge shift happening in photography especially in the equipment arena with Canon ushering in autofocus and also the fixed to 8 zoom lenses so lenses like the 20 to 35 and the 70 to 200 to a those had become the absolute norm staple for every newspaper photographer I knew for the most part there were some rare birds out there shooting like shooting fixed lenses but for the most part everybody had transitioned to zooms including me however for some unknown reason I bought a Canon 50 millimeter 1.4 which was a complete piece of garbage within a matter of weeks could take the lens and I could shake it and it would go CAC CAC CAC CAC CAC CAC CAC because the elements inside were coming apart it was garbage but more importantly is I didn’t know how to use it I didn’t know how to frame with it I didn’t know how to use the aperture on a 50 and the other thing you have to realize is when you do photography long enough you have this ability you’ve gained the ability to anticipate images that will happen based on the environment that you’re in and you have to be in sync you have to be in tune I didn’t know how to use the 50 so I sold it a couple months goes by for whatever reason I bought a second one and I sold it and then a couple of months went by or maybe a year goes by about a third one and I sold it I never committed to the 15 I didn’t know how to use it until I bought a Leica m6 and a 50 millimeter f/2 and I don’t remember how I got it or why I got it but I started to commit to that combination and I would leave everything else at home and I would only use that camera and lens combo and I have to say that changed my life it probably is the most significant gear decision I’ve made in my entire life and it translates on to today so the entire time in Albania I never once had to think about my equipment I never once had to think about lens choice so there’s three reasons and I conveniently wrote them down three reasons why I think this is so important and the number one thing which is these are not in any kind of hierarchical order but the number one thing is you don’t when you’re carrying a single body in a single lens you don’t look like a photographer and the days of being a photographer and having that work to your benefit are numbered you know it’s harder and harder to do documentary work these days people are suspicious they see a professional level camera and they say okay you get away meanwhile the 50 people next to them who are recording in 4k on their iPhones those people are okay but cameras for whatever reason now signify people get nervous so this happened in a museum where we came I walked in with a camera they said oh no you can’t use that in here while there was literally a guy streaming himself live on his iPhone the entire time I was in the museum so it makes no sense so number one single body single camera makes you look a little bit less like a photographer number two and maybe the most important part is that using a single lens for the entire time provides consistency to the look of the work that you’re creating I don’t shoot single images I shoot stories so there needs to be a cohesiveness to those stories and when you’re shooting the same lens the entire time it’s very easy to get that consistency and secondly that translates over to the design so when I’m creating my publication from the trip which is critical to me I would never ever ever go on a trip and spend that much time making pictures and not put it into a publication if you’re a photographer who leaves everything in the digital space in my opinion you are dropping the ball on the last third of your career if you’re not going to print you’re not coming full circle with the projects that you’re doing print requires a very specific kind of commitment it requires editing skill sequencing skills designing skills etc so not only am I going to dist up into a magazine I’m doing it in real time while I’m still in the country every day at the end of the day I’m editing sequencing and laying out the publication that I’m gonna make so that when I get home all I’ve got to do is hit print and I’m done and a week later it shows up on my doorstep and I can start diving in so using the same lens all the time provides the consistency of the look that I’m after and the third point is when you only have one lens you spend all your time shooting and none of your time fumbling and I bring this up because I’ve taught workshops many workshops over the years and I can’t tell you how many students I’ve had I’ve looked over at them in the field and they’ve got multiple cameras and multiple lenses on those cameras and fanny packs and backpacks and they spend 40% of their time 50 percent of their time fumbling with their gear and it’s like what lens and what Cameron what combination and what card and I need a speedlight and I need multiple speed lights and I need strobes and all this stuff and all the while the world is moving in front of you and you’re missing it so if you ever have a question about whether you need a piece of equipment in the field you’ve already answered it you don’t need it so my recommendation to you is to choose a lens and a single body and a giant stack of batteries and go out in the field into those batteries are dead you

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