Photo Gear | 50mm | Exploration

The Nikon 50mm lens I use has the potential to be a versatile lens. A photographer could create a lot of different types of photography with this lens. The lens has a lot of potential.

I can’t recall exactly why I decided to add this piece of equipment to my camera bag. If I had to guess I would imagine it was due to the fact that the lens has an f-stop of 1.8. The 1.8 f-stop dovetails with what I actually use the lens for. I like to think of myself as a forward thinking person and I bought the lens specifically because it would allow me to use it the way I currently do. I don’t know if any of that is true, but it’s the story I tell myself.

Nikon 50mm

This 50mm lens is my go to lens for when I am out hiking and truly exploring. It is small and lightweight. It adds essentially nothing to the weight of the camera body I am already taking with me. I have taken this lens climbing mountains in the Adirondacks and it is the most frequent lens to accompany me when I set out to explore new trails and photograph them.

Photograph created with Nikon 50mm f 1.8

I’ve talked about how I take my Nikon J4  with me on trail runs so that I can take high quality photographs while I am out. That often includes being out on new trails. But the J4 is for when the main purpose is running. The Nikon 50mm on a DSLR body is for when the main purpose of my exploration is photography. The quality of the resulting images are just better with the 50mm lens and DSLR camera body.

Aside from being easy to carry the more important reason for why the 50mm lens goes with me on hikes is the 1.8 f-stop. Hiking often means being in the woods. Being in the woods often means it is dark or at least darker than being out in the open sunlight.

The Light

It might not seem like it to the human eye but it is significantly darker in the woods than out in the open. The human eye is amazing. And camera lens technology is great too. However, when it comes to taking a photograph in the woods often there simply isn’t enough light to create a good image without making adjustments.

The adjustment I prefer is to use a small f-stop. The wide open 1.8 f-stop allows more light into my camera than any other lens I use. That allows me the fastest shutter speeds I can get without making other compromises I would prefer not to make.

The fast shutter speeds allow me to hand hold the camera without having my photographs blurred due to camera shake. Sometimes even with the 1.8 f-stop there still isn’t enough light to reliably hand hold the camera without having noticeable camera shake in the resulting images. 

Depth of Field

The other reason I love photographing with the 50 mm lens is that using the 1.8 f-stop creates a very shallow depth of field. This means that most of what is in the frame is not in crisp focus. The difference between the focus on the subject of the image and the rest of the image is very distinct. I think this allows me to create compelling photographs of subjects that otherwise may not seem so compelling in a photo.

Photograph created with Nikon 50mm f 1.8

I also think that the shallow depth of field where most of the photo is out of focus except for the subject helps to create a sense of distance. A forest can seem such a vast place. When the f-stop is set so that most of the frame is in focus everything in the picture can seem like it is on the same plane. Like all the trees are all the same distance from the camera. In some ways this can diminish the magnitude of the forest.

In reality the trees are all spread out and very seldom are more than just a few trees growing along the same plane and equal distance away from the camera. The forest is vast. I want to show the vastness of the forest. I want it to feel like the trees are far away. Creating an image where all but the subject is increasing out of focus gives a good representation of the vast space one can encounter in the forest.

Photographing Forests

One particular way I like to use this style of photography is in photographing hiking trails in the woods. Focusing on one specific point along the trail highlights that location. The fact that everything else along the trail is out of focus shows both how far must be traveled to get there and how much must be traveled along the path after.

Photograph created with Nikon 50mm f 1.8

The 1.8 f-stop of the 50mm lens creates another benefit as well. I can use that to isolate a specific subject in the forest. A forest or natural area can be a very busy scene. Trees, bushes, plants, and other forms of nature abound. Creating an image that isolates the subject that has caught my eye can be challenging without the shallow depth of field this lens provides.


Often the subject I want to isolate is a tree. I have a fondness for trees. So many have such character. But seldom is there a scene in nature where one tree stands alone with nothing in the foreground and nothing in the background so that you can clearly see all the unique features of the subject.

The 50mm lens with a 1.8 f-stop allows me to drastically reduce if not completely eliminate this problem. As the intended audience for my photograph now you can see clearly what the subject of the image is.

Photograph created with Nikon 50mm f 10

Sometimes I do use a more traditional landscape photography f-stop such as f8 or f10. However, that is usually reserved for when I reach a mountain summit or emerge from the woods into a wide open field. Even then I still sometimes use the 1.8 f-stop. I really just like the difference in feel to an image there is with the shallow depth of field. It isn’t better or worse it is just different.

Photography and gear and how one chooses to use the gear to create art is a personal choice. If you are interested in learning more about the personal choices I make in my work subscribe below to join the KRNaturalPhoto community.

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