Choosing the right lens is an important part of getting the results you want. The two most important things to consider are ‘Focal Length’, and ‘Depth of Field’. 

Let’s start with focal length. Focal length refers to how much you can see through the lens. It’s important to note that the two most common lenses are zoom lenses and prime lenses. A zoom lens has the ability to zoom in or out through a range of different focal lengths. For example, my 17-40mm lens can shoot at both 17mm and 40mm and all points in-between. Whereas a prime (or fixed) lens has only one focal length and cannot zoom. If you want a closer or wider shot with a fixed lens, you have to physically move forward or backward. Let’s take a look at some of the different ranges:



As you can see, 18mm (and lower) have the widest focal lengths and are considered wide angle lenses. Wide angle lenses are great for landscapes and interiors because you can fit a lot into your shot. A 200mm lens would be considered a telephoto lens, and they’re great for zooming into shots that may be further away. To give you an idea of how a shot looks at different focal lengths, I took three shots, standing in the exact same place, with three different focal lengths.

Remember, I stayed standing in the same place when I snapped all three shots. I never backed up, or moved forward. Look how close the 50mm lens is compared to the 10mm lens. Pretty cool, huh?

Now it’s easy to see why 50mm lenses are so popular for shooting portraits. It’s a great lens for capturing closer shots with that beautiful blurry background. And speaking of beautiful blurry backgrounds, that brings us to the second part of choosing the right lens which is ‘Depth of Field’.

Depth of field refers to how much of the image is in focus, and this is accomplished through aperture. Different lenses come with different maximum aperture openings. You can read more about how it actually works here, but for now, the important thing to remember is simply this: The smaller aperture number (f/1.4) equals a more shallow depth of field which makes the blurry background.

So choosing the right lens depends greatly on how you want to final image to look. If your going for an up-close look with a blurry back ground, prime/fixed lenses with wide apertures (f/2.8 or lower) will do the trick, but if you’re shooting a bedroom or bathroom, you’re going to want a wide angle lens that will take in as much as possible without distorting. I shoot most of my interior shots with a 17-40mm lens, how about you?

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  • Funky Junk Interiors

    I just upgraded my 18-55 to a 18-108 and LOVE it! Curious why you like the 18-40 over a longer range? Is it a quality thing? I was always struggling to capture that step beyond without changing the lens so this seems to have done the trick.

    I also picked up a 20-40 for room interior shots, wow, talk about wide angle. I think I’ll finally get my bathroom shots now. 🙂
    Next on my wish list is the 50mm, although I do have a 40 micro which sort of does the same thing? But I’m struggling with blur on it… hmmm… need a 50 me thinks.

    Love the post!

    • shootflyshoot

      Hi Donna!

      Thanks for the comment! I chose the 17-40mm for interiors because I usually stay around the 17mm to 20mm range when shooting a room. So it’s not really a quality issue as much as I just don’t need a longer range for interior shots. I think you would absolutely love a 50mm! the blur is wonderful! I have a Sigma 50mm 1.4 that I love! 🙂

  • Pam

    I’m an experienced Realtor but new to my Nikon D90 right now I’m just using the kit lens 18-105mm? for interior shots. Would it be better to go to a 17-40mm? I’m still finding the numbers some what confusing.

    • shootflyshoot

      Hi Pam!
      Your 18-105mm is great for shooting rooms! I’ve shot a ton of rooms with an 18-55mm. The key is that your lens does have the ability to zoom way out to 18mm. That’s plenty wide enough to take in an average room. I only moved up to the 17-40mm because it is more durable. The thing to keep in mind is that lower number. As long as your lens has the ability to shoot around 17 or 18mm, you’re good to go! Thanks for the comment! 🙂


  • susan

    thanks for this post Kevin. I have a Nikkor lens that came with my camera but since I bought it a few years ago while out west, I immediately upgraded to an 18-200 zoom lens to capture all the nature shots at Yellowstone. I thought that was all I was ever going to need or should I say want. Now I am finding that I also want a prime 50 mm lens with a low aperture. Mine only goes to 3.5. It is definitely going on my Christmas list. Just goes to prove that the more you learn, the more you realize you didn’t know anything. lol.

    • shootflyshoot

      I know what you mean, I feel like I’m always learning. I think you will love that 50mm! 🙂

  • Emily

    Love the article. I am beginning in photography and currently use the Nikon d5100. I am looking to upgrade my lens, but am worried I will make the wrong purchase for what I need. Do you have any recommendations on what I could lean towards? It is GREATLY appreciated, thanks! 🙂

    • Kevin

      Hi Emily!

      The two lenses that I get the most use out of are my Sigma 50mm 1.4 and my Canon 17-40mm. Sigma makes the same great lens for Nikon and it is great for portrait or product shots because of the shallow depth of field you can get with it. For landscapes or interior shots, I use a wide angle lens. Somewhere is the17 to 18mm range to take more in. I hope that helps and I appreciate the comment! 🙂

  • I was looking into the Canon 17-40mm lens but I currently have a crop sensor camera, and I’m told the 17-40mm is made for a full frame camera. One person recommended the Canon 17-55mm instead, which is made for a crop sensor. It’s about $300 more expensive though. I do need to upgrade my camera as well (I’ve had the original Canon EOS Rebel DSLR forever, and I’m wondering whether it’s worth moving up to a 5D Mark II or Mark III when I’m just a casual amateur photographer. I mainly take interior photos for my blog, or outdoor photos when on vacation. What camera do you shoot with regularly?

    • shootflyshoot

      Hi there!
      My Canon 7D also has a cropped chipped, but I’ve shots hundreds of interior shots with it. The fact that the chip is cropped will crop a little bit out of your true focal length, but it is still a very wide shot and plenty wide to shoot interiors!

  • freckled laundry

    Thanks for the always helpful posts, Kevin (and Josh)! I’m currently working with 14-45 mm and 40-150 mm lenses. I’ve been wanting new lenses, but knowing that you shoot interiors with a 17-40 mm makes me happy with my 14-45 mm! I have another sort of off-topic question regarding mega-pixels though. My camera is an oldie Olympus E300 – 8 mpx. I’ve read that high mexa-pixels is mostly hype and that it shouldn’t matter one bit if your shooting for smaller images (like photos and such). So, I’m unsure if I should put money into a new body vs. say, a 50mm lense or a better quality zoom lense. (My existing lenses are kit.) Do you have any insight? Maybe a post about megapixels and why they do/don’t matter? My photos are NEVER as crystal clear as those using Canon’s and Nikon’s and I always shoot with a tripod and the anti-shock timer that delays the pic a sec so I don’t get vibration from pressing the shutter button. Thank you!

    • shootflyshoot

      Hey there!

      Mega-pixels are over hyped a lot! Josh shoots with a 5D MKII and it has the ability to shoot at 22 mega-pixels, but he changed the settings to only shoot at 12 mega-pixels. No one can really tell the difference between 22 mega-pixels and 12 mega-pixels. Shooting at 12 mega-pixels takes up less room on his card and his quote to me was, “I don’t need 22 mega-pixels!”. 🙂

      Lenses are a game changer! You can’t go wrong investing in great lenses, they definitely have a bigger impact on the overall look of your image than the body of your camera does!

      That’s a great idea about doing a post on mega-pixels we will definitely do that. Thanks for stopping by today! 🙂


  • Diane-Nicole

    I am not highly experienced with most of the camera lingo—–but I do love to take nature and bird/raptor photography. I read somewhere in your blog/post about filters—-I do not have the things you suggested —-plus 4 or plus 10. However I do have extention ?tubes or whatever they are called—-would they work with my Canon17-300 lens for Hawks or what are they good for? I would really appreciate your advice since I am kind of stuck with the lenses I have right now due to minimal $. Thanks ahead of time—-and when I have some money I would really to take a course or two of yours. Later.

  • Janice Butler

    I just found this post & wow, I’m so glad I did. Thank you for taking the time to explain these lens differences, especially for me ” amateur” that I am.