#1 Relight your fire

Upgrading your camera body or splashing out on a new lens can be a great way to kick start your creativity and inspire you to pick up your camera again. Whether you like to shoot wildlife, nature or shots of the family, you can’t fail to benefit from a lens with a larger aperture. F/2.8 or wider will maximise the bokeh blur effect you get in the background, as shown in the image above by Todd Diemer. It enables you to put extra emphasis on your subject for more appealing shots. 

Alternatively, try a telephoto lens and experiment by composing tighter shots or close crops. As you get further away from your subject and the focal length increases, your field of view narrows, with the effect that the background appears closer to the subject. If a new telephoto is out of your budget, then how about a teleconverter or extender? Fitting between the lens and camera, they increase your magnification by as much as double, by extending the distance between the front of your lens and the sensor – the images can't compete with those from a lens made for that magnification, and issues develop with depth of field, but if a new lens is out of your budget and you yearn to experiment, an extender is worth looking at.

#2 Expand your horizons

A new camera body might improve your shots but it’s a new lens that expands your creative options and opens up new possibilities. If you’re used to shooting wide-angle, try a fisheye lens to push wide angle to its limits. Most people are put off by the comical distortion effects but, used in the right situations, they can transform your shots. Because of their wide angle of view, they’re great for shooting ornate ceilings and spiral staircases. Also, because the horizontal and vertical centre lines show no distortion, you can use them for portraits. Composed correctly, they enable you to give increased context to your subject by including more of the background.

Think about challenging yourself with a prime lens, too. While the 50mm and 35mm prime lenses are the most common, they come in all sizes and focal lengths, from fisheye to super telephoto. Because the optics are simpler, they usually work out cheaper than a zoom lens ­– and far lighter, too. Those simpler optics are also better at managing the incoming light, making them faster and endowing them with wider apertures than their zoom equivalents. Perfect for those blurred background effects, and ideal for low-light conditions, too.

With its fixed focal length, a prime lens reduces your options when it comes to framing, so you’ll need to physically move closer or further away from your subject. However, the quality of the image you get in return makes it worthwhile. If you’ve been shooting with a zoom lens for a while, you’ll know the range you use most, so factor this in when deciding which focal length you’ll get the most benefit from.

• For more about how to work with fisheye lenses and where they work best, take a look at our fisheye blog.

 

#3 Your kit isn’t up to the job

You need a lens that’s up to the job. When you bought your last lens, you probably didn’t know exactly what you’d use it for. Maybe you bought a 16mm wide angle, but now you’re yearning for the wider view you’d get with a 14mm. Perhaps you’ve been trying to get those dreamy backgrounds you’ve seen in other people’s shots but none of your lenses is fast enough. Maybe that cheap macro was enough to try it out but now you’d like a lens with better magnification, a sharper image, less vignetting at the corners? If you’re a street photographer, chances are you’ll be yearning for the reduction in weight and silent operation that goes with a mirrorless camera and its newer, lighter lenses.

There will always be something new just around the corner but at some point you just have to jump in and take advantage of what’s out there at the moment. You can’t wait forever.

 

#4 Don’t let winter hold you back

When the weather turns and the nights draw in, photography can feel more like a chore than a joy. But don’t put your camera away – try out some indoor photography instead. That’s where a macro lens comes in. The intense magnification of macro provides a unique insight into a world most of us never notice. Get the angle right and a close-up of a flower head can look like a strange new world, while a simple pack of straws becomes an intriguing patchwork of repeating geometric shapes. Extreme macro takes the genre to another level. By adding magnifying lenses, you can zoom in even closer and combine several shots into one for optimal focusing.

High-speed photography is another option, perfect for winter. We’ve all seen shots of fruit splashing into water or images that catch the moment a balloon pops. This trickery is performed in darkness with the camera set to a long exposure time. Because it’s dark, your camera only ‘sees’ the scene the moment the flash fires, which means that with a Speedlight flash you can catch a moment in time lasting a mere 1/20,000 of a second.

How? Set up in a darkened space, set the camera for a one or two second exposure, drop a strawberry in a glass of water then manually trigger the flash just as the strawberry hits the water’s surface. Your camera will catch a split second of the event.

If you like the results, you can achieve greater precision using triggers that react to light, sound or the breaking of a beam of light. In fact, with millisecond precision and the right gear, it’s possible to capture the very moment two droplets of water collide.

• Learn more about macro photography with Jessops Academy. Courses take you through the basics while Experience Days introduce you to some interesting subjects you might not have been able to shoot before. We also offer Speedlight courses, explaining more about high-speed photography. Find out about our courses at Jessops Academy courses.

 

#5 Stay ahead of the curve

Quality lenses won’t necessarily get you quality shots, but when that killer shot comes your way, it pays to have the gear that’ll do it justice, as Sean Weekly knows all too well with an array of wildlife shots like this (Instagram @seanweeklywildlife). Some camera lenses have been known to increase their value the longer you hold onto them. One of Nikon’s fisheye lenses from the 1970s sold at auction in 2012 for an eye-watering £100K. The price reflected the fact that only six were ever made. But those are rare lenses, usually produced in limited numbers for very specific tasks. In reality, a lens will depreciate in value. The more you use it, the more you expose it to potential damage; the less you use it, the more reason you have to trade it in for something you’ll use more often. To make sure you’ve got the best gear, trade in your old lenses and upgrade to the best gear for the job. That’s where Camera Jungle helps out, giving you the chance to trade in a lens or camera body and make sure you’ve always got the best kit for the job.

• If you’re thinking about trading in your existing lenses, try Camera Jungle.

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