What Will Your Next Lens Be, and Why?

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A camera is only as good as the eye that sees behind it, and the eye is just an extension of a photographer’s point of view. In this article, we highlight four photographers with very different points of view: a mountain landscape photographer who hangs on the edges of cliffs at the Everest Base Camp; a globetrotting dance photographer; an editorial photographer who captures the quiet interiors of homes; and an attorney who doubles as a sports photographer.

The challenges they face in the field require different sets of lenses to capture their unique points of view. What they all have in common, however, is the drive to push the envelope of seeing to its utmost limit. They’ve graciously shared their photography, challenges, and perspective with us, answering the question “What is my next lens, and why?”

Ayush Bajracharya, Mountain Photography

Welcome to the Everest Base Camp, where imposing mountains look down upon tiny, insignificant human beings. Thin air scrapes at oxygen-deprived lungs. Starting at 9,380 feet above sea level, the tiny mountain town of Lukla is the starting point of every trekker’s dream.

Packs of yaks walk slowly on dusty trails. Suspension bridges hover above raging rivers that have cut some of the tallest mountains in the world. Between bouts of fierce, bitingly cold mountain wind, Ayush Bajracharya carefully clicks the shutter on his camera.

Bajracharya is a freelance photographer and designer, based in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city. With the Himalayan mountain range as a backdrop of his vibrant hometown, he’s comfortable stumbling along the winding trails of Nepal’s many majestic mountains.

Ayush Bajracharya, Mountain Photography

Needless to say, the challenges he faces at high elevations, under extreme conditions, are unique. Aside from physical challenges, the photographic challenges are dictated by the ever-changing light and weather. Harsh sunlight during the day can shift to cloud cover instantly. “I can’t really change lenses when I’m trekking because of the wind. The dust gets into the camera and it’s hard. And there isn’t any shelter to change it.”

With electricity scarce, charging his camera batteries is also a challenge. “I have to be careful. Sometimes after 200 shots I have to change the battery. So, carry a lot of batteries with you. You never know when you’ll have a chance to charge again.”

Bajracharya shoots primarily with the AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Lens from Nikon. “I can capture basically everything with this lens—portraits, landscapes, and everything in between. It’s not as sharp as I want it to be, but it’s very handy. I don’t have to carry both a wide and a tele. Sometimes the zoom gets stuck due to the dust. It’s not the best, but it gets the job done.”

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR  24-70mm f/2.8G ED

His other lens is a prime, the Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D. He appreciates its ease of use, and sharp image. “The prime sets a limit for what I can capture, and it’s totally about interacting with my subjects.”

The lens he wants next is the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR  24-70mm f/2.8G ED. It’s a sharper lens with a constant aperture throughout. “Capturing mountainscapes is very exciting for me. To try to capture a sense of their mammoth scale is challenging, but it’s worth it every time.”

Paula Lobo, Dance Photographer

Brazilian photographer Paula Lobo has scoured the globe, photographing dancers in their native and cultural landscapes. From the adrenaline-driven stages of the New York City Ballet to modern dancers back-dropped by the blue, ice-cold Norwegian glaciers, Lobo has managed to combine her entangled passions—dance, travel, and photography—into a successful photographic career.

She quit a job in advertising in her late twenties to pursue photography, starting out with a photography internship to learn the ins and outs of the business. “I thought, maybe I’ll hate it. Let me give it a shot. See if it becomes a job. So I interned with a photographer first.”

Paula Lobo, Dance Photographer

As a ballet dancer herself for many years, she gravitated toward dancers and dancing as a subject. She heard about a dance photography workshop in Norway, and took a leap of faith. “I didn’t know what to expect, but I took a chance.”

The risk was worth it. She photographed Norwegian dancers on glaciers and found her subject. “I thought this would be amazing to do this as a personal project. Photograph dance from different parts of the world. Why they dance. From culture to culture.”

Lobo continued her personal project on a trip to Turkey. Fortuitously encountering a Brazilian reality TV crew in New York beforehand, she casually talked about the idea of her photo project. They pitched it to their producers, and soon she was slated for a Brazilian TV series, World in Movement, in 2012, photographing dancers in eight countries around the globe. A photo book compilation of her world travels and observations called, “When They Dance,” followed shortly afterward.

She didn’t stop there. Lobo came to New York to pursue a dream of photographing for dance companies. Simply put, it worked out. “I wanted to see how far I could go. There are so many dance companies in New York. Things started happening. I started freelancing for the New York Times. One thing lead to the next.” She now photographs on world stages, from Lincoln Center to the Tokyo New National Theater.

Dance photography poses many challenges. Lobo must capture the quick spontaneity of movements while being mindful of nuances, often in theaters with low light. That requires fast zoom lenses with a constant aperture throughout the zoom range. She shoots with one camera body and changes lenses on the fly. “I’d rather quickly change lenses, than change settings on two cameras. It all happens so fast.”

All of the lenses in her current kit cover every situation she’s encountered in the field. The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED is her workhorse lens for both outdoor and indoor, low-light photography. The static aperture through the zoom range is critical for shooting in theaters, where a scene can instantly switch between low light and bright stage lights. For the same reason, she’ll switch out to the Nikon AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8D ED for closer shots. A Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G rounds out her kit for intimate close-ups or portraits.

More concerned with adding video to her photographic arsenal, Lobo has upgraded to a new computer. She doesn’t necessarily want to upgrade to a new lens. But, if money weren’t an issue, she’d pick the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II Lens.

 Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II Lens

“Dance is about the lines of the body, but also about capturing the drama that exists in the details—facial expressions, hands, feet. I would use the Nikon 300mm to capture those details from the back of the theater.”

Leaps of faith have been a common theme in her career. Recently, Lobo has expanded her vision to include rock climbing, action sports, and portraits. She’s always on the lookout for new opportunities to showcase her work. But at her core, Lobo continues on her lifelong quest to capture the raw emotion and movement of dancers around the world.

Evan Sklar, Interior Photography

Interior photography is just one of Evan Sklar’s many talents. Elle Decor, The New York Times Magazine, and Conde Nast Traveler are just a few of the impressive clients on his editorial roster.

Sklar’s fine art background is evident in his quiet, well-composed images. His interior photography evokes the complexity and simplicity of a still life painting.

Rather than shooting in the dark, he enjoys the creative constraints of editorial photography. “I love that I’m given an assignment. I have a parameter. It’s an interior, food, or travel story. It’s like a haiku. You know the rules, and create something novel from those rules in a fun way.”

Evan Sklar, Interior Photography

With a simple approach to image making, Sklar captures a sense of space with as little as possible. He doesn’t want his images to look like typical real estate photography. “I think, ‘What can I lose to make the picture better?’ I want the space to look inviting and organic. I don’t want the first thing you notice to be the photography or lens distortion.”

This ethos directly factors into Sklar’s choice of lenses. He keeps his kit simple. A Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM prime and a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM zoom are his main lenses. He corrects for parallax error in-camera or afterward in Photoshop. “I’ll use a 28mm in a bathroom or small kitchen, when there’s no other way. It’s a bit of a tradeoff.”

Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM

His next lens would be an EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM prime, instead of a wide-angle zoom.

As far as tips on how to improve upon interior photography, Sklar says, “As a writer writes all the time, a photographer must make photos all the time, not just with a smartphone. Photograph spaces. Make and look at photography daily. I feel lucky to be able to do photography. I love making pictures.”

Joshua Sarner, Sports Photography

For Joshua Sarner, a lifelong love of baseball lead him to photograph on the same ball fields that he watched his heroes play on as  a boy. He shoots for the NY Mets and has covered the Arizona Fall League, a virtual finishing school for upcoming major league superstars. Although his main focus is baseball, he has also shot for the NY Rangers hockey, St. John’s men’s basketball, and Connecticut Huskies football teams, and even PGA golf tournaments.

As a sports photographer, split seconds are absolutely critical. Sarner also juggles a job as an attorney by day. So how does a thirteen-year, big-firm lawyer become a sports photographer? He picked up his first DSLR in 2008. As with legal briefs, Sarner “researches things to death,” tirelessly reads photography reviews, cherry-picks what’s relevant, then applies the bits he’s learned in the field. “It was a lot of trial and error, then wash, rinse, and repeat.”

Like the rookies, he started shooting in the minor leagues. Despite putting in 80-hour weeks at the law firm, Sarner made time on the weekends to hone his craft; shooting spring trainings and minor league games while gaining invaluable advice from seasoned pros along the way. Game by game, he built a portfolio of work that inevitably launched him into the majors. Since then, he has shot both as a freelancer and a contract photographer for Icon Sportswire, covering the Mets, as well as other New York pro and college teams.

Joshua Sarner, Sports Photography

He built his solid “baseball kit” from the ground up. Earning the respect of his peers before hitting in the big leagues was a key move. “I didn’t want them to think that I was a lawyer who bought a lot of fancy toys.” He upgraded his lens kit as his skills inevitably improved.

Sarner always shoots with two bodies. A majority of his shots are taken with Canon 1D Mark IV DSLR. He’ll switch out a Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM or a Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM, depending on his position on the field and the configuration of the ballpark. The second camera body, a Canon 5D Mark III, hangs at his side, a majority of the time sporting a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens for closer action. He’ll often switch to a Tokina AT-X 16-28mm f/2.8 Pro FX, for wide-angle stadium and crowd shots or for a congratulatory moment taking place in the dugout, or his beloved Canon 135mm f/2L USM for "sportraits" of individual players.

Part of a small fraternity of sports photographers, who constantly share tips on equipment, Sarner says, “I borrowed a Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS USM with Internal 1.4x Extender. That’s the next lens I want.”

Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS USM  

“Traditionally, telephoto zoom couldn’t touch a prime. With camera bodies performing better at higher ISOs, the fact that it’s f/4 is not a deterrent. This lens keeps constant aperture through the focal range, and is great for manual shooters. Even when using the built-in 1.4x teleconverter at f/5.6 during the day, the effective 280-560mm focal length allows me to zoom in tight enough so I still don’t lose that shallow depth of field, and professional look.”

Sarner also touts the fact that he wouldn’t have to carry both a 300mm and 400mm for different fields. Combine the prices of both lenses, and you have one lens that can do the job of both wonderfully.

His old-fashioned and childlike affection for baseball is evident in his photography. “I appreciate the beauty in every aspect of baseball. I want to capture the raw emotion of the game while being mindful of the slow, still lifes: a hat and gloves on the steps, the equipment, and the playing surface—those details are special. I isolate players. I want their expressions to tell a story.”

Conclusion

Four photographers, four distinct points of view. From the mountaintops of the tallest peaks, to the big dance stages of the world. From baseball stadiums to home interiors, these photographers have proven their dedication to their craft.

“A photographer must always work with the greatest respect for his subject

and in terms of his own point of view.” —Henri Cartier-Bresson

Their lens choices and setups are as unique as the ways they see the world. Some use the same lenses in very different ways. Others, different lenses altogether. Each situation presents its own set of challenges.

Hopefully, this article has provided you with some inspiration along the way, and helped inform your choice as you think about what lens is right for you.

So, what will your next lens be?

Add new comment

My next lens will be the 12-28 mm Tokina f4.0 AT-X Pro DX for my Nikon D90 camera. What do you think of that rather new entry on the wide angle lens scene from a quality Japanese company?

Next lens Nikon 500mm, have up to 300mm can make it to 420mm with 1.4x  converter. Might even go for 600mm, will have to see the weight with my camera/ power pack set-up. Wished Nikon made a 300-600 f4.5...

Mr. Regalado,

I got a ton of enjoyment from reading your well written story. Explora is one of my favorite places on the net and the amount of time I spend on it reflects that for sure.

My next lens may have to come after my next camera. We'll see. But when it finally arrives it will be a zoom that reaches 600 mm. My only other zoom is a 55 - 300 mm that I use a lot for photography around my home in China and I love it. Part of that photo taking is at an ice rink where I skate a lot. Getting great captures of skaters requires a lens that can reach the far end of the ice at times. 300 just doesn't cut it when you want to get that skater's face in close and I'm at the opposite end. I've also found countless times in the past when I've commented to myself that, "I wish I had a longer lens right now". Enough times such that I can justify the purchase. 

I'm an amatuer, looking to move to the next level --right now I take alot of pictures of the family and at social gatherings for groups I belong to.  I am always asked to shoot wedding and other events because I always have my camera with me!  Right now I have the Canon Rebel SL1 and EOS T3 and have 50mm; 18-55mm; 75-300mm and 55-250mm lenses.  What's the next camera and lens for me?