The Best Lenses for 5 Common Scenes :: Digital Photo Secrets

The Best Lenses for 5 Common Scenes

by David Peterson 1 comment

Without a lens, our DSLRs couldn’t capture an image. The big question for most photographers looking to expand beyond the kit lens that came with their camera is: what lens to I buy next?

I thought I’d shed some light on lenses in order to help you decipher the best lenses for five common scenarios (Family, Flowers, Beach, Night, Landscapes), and depending on your specific needs, you can decide which one makes the grade for your next expenditure and addition to your camera bag.

Common Scene #1 - Family and Friends

Let’s face it, if you’re carrying around a DSLR, your friends and family label you as the photographer guru in the bunch. It almost becomes an unwritten family law that you’ll be at any family event ready to shoot photos. So, in the case of family events, such as birthday parties, weddings, and vacations, there will be a lot of activity and variety to your shots. In this case, I would venture to say that you can stick with that kit lens that came with your camera. In this case, there’s really no need to buy any other lenses, so you can save some cash or spend it on other gear like a tripod, filters, and even remote shutter releases so you can be in the family photo for a change.

Most kit lenses run from 18mm to 135mm or somewhere in between. This will give you ample telephoto range to get those large group shots and to capture the kids playing without being too close to them. Read more about what mm means on a lens.

That all said, there is an exception, and that would be a 50mm portrait lens. This is a great option lens to have at the formal events where you do want some great portraits of the bride and groom or mom and dad’s 50th wedding anniversary. With a portrait lens, you can reduce your depth of field since they usually go as low as f/1.4 (more expensive) or f/1.8 (less expensive). Since a 50mm lens is often one-third the cost of some of the other lenses I’m about to mention, I find it to be a great, affordable addition. Also, a fixed lens gives you slightly sharper images than a telephoto.

Common Scene #2 - Flowers

Scroll around Facebook news feeds in the spring and you don’t even need to go outside to see flowers because everyone is posting pictures from their gardens in bloom. People love photographing flowers because, well, they’re always pretty and make for great subjects! The key is finding a good lens that does the flowers justice. While inexpensive lenses these days provide quality images, a pro lens like the Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 DX Lens or the Canon EF-S 60mm f2.8 USM Macro are both great options.

Remember that not all flowers are shot in macro mode; in fact, most aren’t unless you’re going for the inside details. Close up without macro is often good enough, and don’t forget that with cameras at 18 megapixels or higher, you always have the option to crop. Do try and use a tripod and shutter release cable or remote shutter release to cut down on camera shake for these close up images.

Read more on taking beautiful pictures of flowers.

Common Scene #3 - Beach

It’s vacation time and you’re hitting the beach! In order to capture the essence of a broad reaching beach and tide, you are going to want a good wide angle lens, such as a 17-40mm. At the same time, you may also want a good telephoto lens that gives you the option to zoom in on a variety of subjects. It all depends on the type of beach you’re going to. If it’s remote without much more than beautiful scenery and you can only bring one lens, go for the 17-40mm. If it’s a beach with character and people, like South Beach, Miami, you might just want a 70-200mm to zoom in on some of the local life in and out of the water. Either way, throw a polarizer filter on the lenses to cut down on reflection and to enhance the blue skies.

Read more about the common problems when photographing at the beach.

Common Scene #4 - Night

A lot of photographers shy away from photographing things at night because they’re simply just not sure how or what to photograph after dark. Fireworks, the moon, headlights, skylines, and lots of other subjects come to life at night and beg to be photographed just as much as their daytime counterparts. Like the beach, the lens(es) you want for night photography will depend on what you’re photographing.

For full moon and fireworks, you will want to be able to zoom in, so going with a 70-200mm or longer lens would be ideal. Both are much brighter when zoomed in, so keep that in mind when you start shooting. You don’t want to overexpose them, especially the moon or it will look like a white blob. By zooming in tight, you can shorten your exposure time and get some of those craters in the shot.

Alternatively, for skylines and headlights on a highway, you will want to go with a wide angle lens to accommodate the same broad scope as the beach. You can go with the same 17-40mm range or a fixed one. Shutter speed is more important at night than f/stop, so keep that in mind as well.

Common Scene #5 - Landscape

Certainly for landscape photography you are going to want a good wide angle lens. A pro lens like the ones mention above would be worth the investment to get spectacular results. Although the sweet spot for most landscape work is at f/7.1 or f/8, you still want a good quality lens, and those are more likely to have a lower f/stop.

Oftentimes when shooting landscapes, you can’t step back any further than you already are, or if you can, you end up getting the road or some other unwanted distraction in your frame. That’s when a great wide angle lens saves the day. Read more on photographing landscapes.

Think about the type of photography you tend to pick your camera up for the most and let that be the guiding factor for your next addition to your camera bag!

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  1. Stephen says:

    Im starting to do photography as im leaving the British army and I found that you hav given me losts of tips .
    Im doing a betc level 3 in photography in sept can't wait .
    Thanks for the tips keep it coming cheers Stephen.

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.