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The Nikkor 35 MM

The Lens of the Storyteller

Like many young photographers starting out in the business, I used to think that the body of my camera meant more than the lens I was shooting with. Depending on your field of work, this may be true— megapixels, sensor size, dynamic range and lowlight performance certainly have an influence on the quality of, say, a print advertisement.

Unlike shooting on my adjustable 24-120mm f4 lens, the 35mm prime lens allows a sharper, cleaner image because of it’s fixed focal length when shooting landscapes.    Nikon Z6 35mm F 7.1

Unlike shooting on my adjustable 24-120mm f4 lens, the 35mm prime lens allows a sharper, cleaner image because of it’s fixed focal length when shooting landscapes.

Nikon Z6 35mm F 7.1

But for me, the artistry lives within the lens because it is the vehicle of perspective. As I deepened my relationship with this craft, I grew obsessed with collecting lenses— my most recent of which is a 35mm f 1.8. Primarily as a portrait photographer, you may be asking why I invested in a lens like this as traditionally the wide angle of a 35mm creates a small amount distortion when representing your subject up closely. The draw for the 35mm for me is as much artistic as it is challenging to my traditional workflow. With longer focal lengths usually used in portraits—my most popular of which is an 85mm lens— it’s easy to take pictures from afar, tucked behind my camera body.

Taken on a busy day near the Navy Memorial in downtown DC, working closely with the subject on the 35mm allowed me to keep the tourist and other bodies huddling around the memorial out of the shot. The width of the 35mm allowed me to frame my subject between the edge of the Archives building and the Smithsonian museum, creating a path of lines.    Nikon Z6 F 1.8

Taken on a busy day near the Navy Memorial in downtown DC, working closely with the subject on the 35mm allowed me to keep the tourist and other bodies huddling around the memorial out of the shot. The width of the 35mm allowed me to frame my subject between the edge of the Archives building and the Smithsonian museum, creating a path of lines.

Nikon Z6 F 1.8

But as I move into more documentary style work, I find that the 35mm lens puts me right on the forefront of where the stories are happening. Shooting with a 35mm forces me to have a relationship with my subject because of the proximity. It forces me to think creatively about how I compose my images, as more information—more action— is in the framing. Whereas with an 85 I may be able to mask certain things through distance and separation, a 35 forces me to deal with the immediate and to do so in a way that engages all the fundamental techniques in photography.

A technique I developed and used routinely during my time in New York City, working with objects in the foreground has two purposes in the process. Obviously there is the artistic benefit of creating lines and helping draw focus to your subject and introducing soft color/fades. Secondly though is the value it holds in masking unwanted objects in the background.    Nikon Z6 35mm f 1.8

A technique I developed and used routinely during my time in New York City, working with objects in the foreground has two purposes in the process. Obviously there is the artistic benefit of creating lines and helping draw focus to your subject and introducing soft color/fades. Secondly though is the value it holds in masking unwanted objects in the background.

Nikon Z6 35mm f 1.8

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