If you’ve been into photography long enough, there’s no doubt that you have a preferred focal length. And the longer you’ve been into photography, the more likely it is that your favourite focal length has changed once or twice over the years.
My earliest experiences were with a zoom lens — an 18-55mm. I wondered how it could get much better than that. It was so versatile. Then I tried a prime lens — a 50mm f/1.8 and I was hooked not only fixed focal length lenses, but 50mm in particular.
As of now, my lens collection, while modest compared to some, covers a range of 14mm to 200mm. Some are used far more than others but they all have their utility. There’s one focal length, however, that I reach for more frequently than the rest: 28mm. Why?
Here are three reasons why 28mm is my favourite focal length.
It’s Wide But Not Too Wide
Of course some people will find 28mm too wide, I get that. It can be a little overwhelming at first, especially when you’re used to working with normal and telephoto lenses.
But I find that 28mm allows me (in most instances) to fit exactly what I want into a cityscape (or a landscape).
You’ll get plenty of useful tips from across the web about how to best use a 28mm lens, but at the risk of sounding like something a parent would say to their teenager before attending a party, the single best piece of advice for working with a 28mm lens is, “make good decisions.”
There’s a lot going on in your field of view, so before you press the shutter, take a critical look at your frame. A scene can end up feeling somewhat empty, as it’s easy for the point of interest to get swallowed up in the frame.
Make sure you’ve got a strong composition, make sure everything fits and make sure everything in your frame matters.
One of the reasons some people are put off by the idea of using a 28mm lens (or its equivalent) for street photography is that it forces you to get close to your subject. But for others, myself included, this is one of the fun things about the 28mm focal length.
While I’ve always made a point to avoid being intrusive, I’m perfectly comfortable getting close to people with my camera. Of course, how close depends on the circumstances and what I’m attempting to capture, but whether I’m close enough for noticeable eye contact or I keep enough distance to incorporate a bit of environment, 28mm is my lens of choice to take out on the street.
It’s Easy To Focus
One other reason that a 28mm lens works so well for street photography is that it’s easy to focus. This isn’t a focal length that provides much in the way of background blur, so shooting it wide open isn’t advantageous in most scenarios.
I can simply set my aperture to f/8 and shoot away, knowing that everything will be in focus. Usually. If you’re using a manual focus lens, you’ll want to set your distance to around 6 feet, more or less depending on your comfort level.
Many will sing the praises of other focal lengths for all of the same reasons I have lauded the 28mm focal length. The goal isn’t to argue for the superiority of one focal length over another, but to bring attention to options that some may have never considered.
If you’re looking to inject some new life into your photography, a 28mm lens just might open up creative possibilities for you that you can’t get with longer focal lengths. Give it a try and be sure to have fun with it!