Why I’m Glad I Broke My 50mm Lens

It really was a tragic moment. I walked through the back door in September 2011 with my family DSLR tossed carelessly in a camera bag that was too small for the camera. As such, the bag was unzipped and the neck strap hooked itself around the door knob while I kept walking.

As you can guess, the camera crashed to the floor.

There was a profound moment of silence in the family when everyone realized this horrible moment was BROOKE’S FAULT! Not anyone elses!!!! Not anyone who is repeatedly warned to be careful or not to touch the camera!

The camera was fine. But the 50mm 1.4 lens attached no longer works.

The first thing I did was buy a camera bag that fit.

And the second thing I did?

Well, I’m still waiting on that one. Its been over four months and I still haven’t replaced it. Part of me is still in denial that I was that careless. I have this vain imagination that it will miraculously heal itself and as such I’ve tried to forget about it.

But trying to forget about a lens that I considered my all time favorite and go-to lens for 90% of my work requires a bit of an adjustment.

Which is the exact reason that I haven’t replaced it yet.

Not having my 50mm has completely thrown me off course in my shooting.

And its been a fabulous challenge!

1.  I realized how I was limiting my vision.  

One of my first shoots after the accident, I was repeatedly switching between my 85mm 1.8, and 35mm 2.0 lens.  I wasn’t happy with either one. I finally realized that I had shot with the 50mm so much that my creative eye had actually begun to only visualize images according to that focal length.  I’d put one focal length on, look through the camera, shake my head, put on the other, shake my head. It wasn’t what I was used to seeing and I was astonished that my eye actually craved the missing 50mm!

This proves that focal lengths (how wide or narrow you see through the lens) really do have their own characteristics.  Yes, I could simply walk closer to my subjects with my 35mm to frame the shot in a similar way, but it really does look totally different.  The wider the lens, the more stretch and pull it gives visually to the sides (distortion).  The more narrow a lens the more compressed the visual effect becomes. Thus, a reason that the 50mm is such a popular focal length. Its a great balance between the two extremes.

(Want to see a cool demonstration of this principle in action? Check out THIS POST. Its awesome!)

2.  I got to actually use those other lenses I had invested in!

Its been fun (and sometimes really challenging) to get to know the ideosyncrocies of other lenses. For example, I’ve shot extensively with the 85mm 1.8 in the last four months and it reacts totally differently to depth of field. I have to be much more careful on my close up shots to get both eyes in focus because it is so much more sensitive at lower apertures than the 50mm was.

3.  It pushed me creatively.

We are creatures of habit. Being literally forced to do things differently and see things differently has been extraordinary for helping me see the world in ways that I wasn’t considering before.  Having the “middle ground” focal length missing from my bag meant that a lot of what I was shooting was more on the extreme side of very wide or very narrow. This has been quite an adventure!

Its been awhile since I felt this uncomfortable shooting.  Will I replace my 50mm?  Yes. But not till I start to feel comfortable without it. Because then having it back will cause a similar ruffle of the feathers, and we creatives can always use that.


But all of you careful people out there don’t have to go and bust a lens to enjoy the benefits of changing things up!  Hey, its 2012! I challenge you to spend part of your shooting time this year being uncomfortable.

-Shoot with your old camera

-Shoot with a lens you rarely use

-If you normally shoot in auto or priority modes, try experimenting in manual

-If you normally shoot favoring your choice of depth of field, shoot to favor a slower shutter speed

-Shoot at night

-Shoot in the middle of the bright noon sun

-Shoot a self portrait and get in front of the camera!

Growth happens when we stretch out of the routine.

How do you change things up? I’d love to hear! Leave your comments below!

Brooke Snow is a Lifestyle photographer in Cache Valley, Utah. Some things that make her very uncomfortable? Planning or hosting parties, crafting, gift wrapping, grocery shopping, and swearing. In light of this post she’s going to try to become better at one of these so she can grow creatively…she probably won’t pick swearing, but the process of doing what is hard might bring that one out naturally 🙂

Brooke teaches inspiring online photography classes that bring you confidence in your skills and creativity.

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18 Responses

  1. Brooke, you don’t even know how much I needed to hear this. I’m pretty sure that I, yes I, did the same thing to my 50mm just recently and have been in denial as well!!!!! It has been my go-to lens for almost 3 years and I’m just determined that it’s just gonna be healed one day! Im I. My way to nc for some shoots, consultations and an interview with a university for a pj interview and this is exactly what I needed to hear!!!!!! I HAVE to get comfortable with my other lenses and stop seeing the world in 50mm! Thank you do much for posting this and making me realize that I need to get the out of my comfort zone!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. oooh! Good luck Courtney on the upcoming adventures! And I look forward to seeing how you roll with the other lenses. Its kind of fun to suddenly feel the necessity of being more creative 🙂

  2. I was just talking to a friend about this the other day! She’s considering buying a 24mm and I was telling her how much I love mine, but then I couldn’t remember the last time I used it. And I did a quick session with the kids the other day and pulled out my 85mm and got my two most favourite images I’ve taken of the kids. It’s just so easy to keep the 50mm on there and never take it off. You’ve inspired me to shoot with my 24mm today – thanks!

  3. Just last Saturday I tried using a different lens to get more comfortable with it, and loved the results! (even had someone ask me which lens I had used who wanted to buy a new lens). It’s so easy to get stuck with the comfortable. Thanks for the inspiration to shake it up again!

  4. I changed things up this past year by doing one of the things you mentioned above – I learned how to shoot in bright, direct sun. I practiced on my son over and over. The result is that now I have some pretty awesome pictures of him (and plenty of throwaways of course), but now I won’t have to freak if someone can only do their session at mid-day. In fact, learning this new skill has changed how I work with the sun at all times of the day, so it really has been a game changer for me.

    1. Sara! This is awesome! I love that you practiced over and over 🙂 Its a tried and true method too many neglect! And having the ability to shoot in noon day sun changes everything 🙂

  5. I love my 85 and always have. It has been my go-to since I got it. I have been trying to research the next lens purchase so I may have to branch out of my comfort zone. I have a 50 that I use sometimes… might just give a 24 a whirl!

  6. Great post! You always seem to speak to what I am going through. I actually have a rental lens this week, 35mm 1.4. I have a few sessions scheduled to practice and I can’t wait! You can read and learn about different lenses but it is so different to actually work with them.

    1. I love the 35 too! And you are so right…its totally different to use them personally than to just read about them. Renting is such a great option because you can try before you buy!

  7. Yowzers, Brooke!

    You make such good points here, but the loss of a lens was a pretty pricey lesson! When I started your classes last year, I had my kit lens and a 200mm zoom that we purchased as well. Your classes encouraged me to go out and get the 50mm, and it has been my go to lens ever since!! I LOVE the shallow depth of field. But I love that you suggest going out of our comfort zone, and working on our, for lack of a better word, weaknesses. I’m going to add that to my list of things to work on this year!

    PS. I think you should teach a class about all the different lenses and what they do — how to achieve different effects on the same photo with a different lens each time! That’s something I need! LOL!

    1. Hi Kate! I’m happy you got the 50mm and that you are keeping it safe!! 😉 yes, it was a pricey lesson to learn, but I gotta find the good in it somehow or I cry 🙂

  8. Sorry about your loss, on the bright side atleast it wasn’t the 50mm 1.2L. I’ve been dependent on my Sigma 30mm 1.4 and am pleasantly surprise at the results when I put on different lens (85mm 1.8 or the 50mm 1.4). If only there could be a lens that could do all.

  9. Same “problem” here, always shooting with my 50mm. However, since it’s my only lens, I better love it!
    p.s. I know. It’s on the list. 24-70?

    1. You know what Beth? If I had only one lens it would be the 50mm 🙂 No shame in having one lens at all 🙂 You just make it work for you. The next one to get? Personally I’d go for the 35mm prime before the 24-70, but I love primes, and I love that its about 10 times cheaper than the 24-70 as well 🙂

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