Shooting with a long lens is really fun and it gives you so much versatility. But before we talk about how to love your long telephoto lens and the best way to use it, let’s define it.
The 50mm focal distance in photography is considered the ‘normal’ focal length. This is because it is considered to be the distance at which we see with the naked eye. Therefore using a 50mm lens is providing no magnification. If you were to multiply that by 4 you would get 200mm. So when you shoot with a 200mm you are essentially magnifying your scene 4 times. Anything higher than 200mm gives you more magnification and ultimately more reach to your subject from a distance.
So now that we know what a telephoto is and what it does for us, let’s talk about how to use it (most examples below are with my favorite telephoto lens, the Canon 100-400mm).
1. Beautiful portraits
Having a telephoto lens is great for photographing people, especially portraits. Wide angle lenses create distortion that is not very flattering to a human face or body. Long lenses make your subjects look more natural and have the ability to isolate your subject from the background. Different from depth of field, lens compression has the ability to make the background less distracting. When you shoot with a wide angle lens you capture much of the scene around the subject. However, with a telephoto lens you change your shooting angle to have a much more narrow view and therefore less background is visible which makes objects in the background appear larger.
Here’s an example of a 50mm portrait vs a 400mm portrait:
For these shots I kept my daughter in the exact same place. I chose a spot in my yard with a busy background so that you could easily see the difference between the two focal lengths.
And keeping her in the same spot and using my 400mm, I had to move much further back and change my angle of shooting. Notice in this next one how much closer the shed and the grasses behind her look? The background looks larger and less obtrusive.
Of course I wouldn’t shoot portraits in front of this shed so I moved her to a more pleasing location and took this one.
Then as another example these two were shot on the other side of my house and opposite the sun in open shade. These were also shot at 400mm, one close and one further back.
And even though this daughter looks fairly bored here, the background looks nice. 🙂
2. You can be a spy
You can photograph your kids without them knowing but still be able to get in close. Follow them around and keep quiet. When kids don’t know they are being photographed they act much differently.
Sisters act like they like each other.
And even photograph them swimming from a distance.
3. The bokeh is fantastic
Nothing beats the bokeh (the blurry background) you get from a long lens. Even at higher apertures you can get some beautiful creamy or circular bokeh. But in order to maximize your beautiful backgrounds you need to pay attention to what is behind your subject while shooting.
For example, I wanted to isolate this flower from the rest of the bunch so I used my 400mm lens knowing I would get a narrower background at that length.
The first image I shot looked like this:
But then I realized if I moved myself slightly I could get the blue flowers in the background to be more behind the yellow which would be more complimentary and pleasing.
So this was the shot I ended up with:
And you can even photograph an angry bird from a safe distance:
Or creamy beautiful backgrounds like these examples.
4. Sports and action shots
Capture the action from the sidelines with a long lens. This is definitely a fun challenge to try to capture the fun and excitement of a game or maybe just a practice when you have a lens long enough to see everything from afar. It’s something that takes a lot of practice and skill, since using a long lens can produce some camera shake if you don’t have a high enough shutter speed, but it’s worth getting acquainted with. Here are some of my meager attempts to capture my kids in action.
5. Shoot at a safe distance
No one wants to be out in the elements exposing your camera to the rain, snow or even a sprinkler. But having a long telephoto lens solves that problem.
I shot this one from the comfy and dry confines of my covered porch:
And I let them play with water while staying at a safe and dry distance:
This is by far my favorite reason to own a telephoto, to be one with nature. Wildlife and capturing it has always been a passion of mine and I just love being able to observe from afar while using my camera to get up close. From birds to animals to insects, having a long lens allows you to be a part of their lives while letting them do their thing.
While shooting with a long telephoto won’t give you macro results, similar to shooting with a macro lens you can get pretty close to subjects that you wouldn’t necessarily want to get too close to.
Insects are a good example of where having a long lens is a treat. You can capture them from a far distance while being virtually undetected. This helps with getting the photo you want and keeps you away from potential stings.
Reaching some new pretty buds in a tall tree. Yay spring:
Or catch a squirrel munching:
Now you can see why I have so much fun with this lens and how rarely it leaves my camera. If you need to break out of a rut or want to try something or build your biceps, rent or buy one of these babies and take it for a spin.