When to Use Your Telephoto Lens

Anyone who has ever used a camera knows the value of the zoom. And we’ve all experienced that agonising moment when our camera is just that little bit too far out of range to capture that precious, unexpected moment.

That’s when we all wish we had a telephoto lens. Most compact cameras have zoom options, but DSLRs come with a huge range of telephoto lenses – 100mm lenses or higher. These lenses enable us to get up really close to the action even when we’re viewing it from far away.

But they can be used for far more than magnifying an image. Here are some of our favourite times to pull out the big guns.

To capture wildlife

Animals are usually flighty creatures. One crack of a twig and they’re scampering across the landscape, leaving you with nothing but a photograph of an empty woodland.

Telephoto lenses allow you to get close to those subjects you don’t want to disturb. They let you take shots that make it seem as though you were chummy with that pride of lions or frolicking with those feisty dolphins.

In reality, you’re far away. With a telephoto lens, you can capture serene animals looking comfortable in their surroundings, while you are at a safe distance. After all, we’re pretty certain our Photo Friday winner Shane Smart wasn’t almost in the lion’s jaws when he captured his stunning award-winning photo below.


To capture a portrait

If you’ve paid any attention to the professional photographers at a wedding, you’ll notice they seem to cleverly stay out of the action while still capturing some smashing candid portraits. They manage to do this thank to their telephoto lens.

A telephoto lens lets you shoot from a distance, from so far away, in fact, that many people won’t even know they’re being photographed. That puts those shy personalities at ease.

Even better, zoom allows you to crop out extraneous detail and to better blur the background – more on that below.

man playing checkers on street

To capture a landscape

This one might surprise you, given that a lot of landscape photography is done with a wide angle lens to fit the whole vista in.

But sometimes there are details you’ll want to focus in on – a specific mountain peak, for example. Pulling the detail a little further into the frame helps you capture something far more captivating than a washy horizon with few details. It’s also a great way to block out an uninspiring sky.


To fill the frame

This links back to the portrait and wildlife photography tips we mentioned above. A telephoto lens lets you remove the blank space around your subject, to fill the frame instead with your point of interest.

Gone is the boring sky or the crowds behind your subject. With a telephoto lens, you can hone in on an interesting tree or boulder, a windmill or a visage and make it the centre of attention.

To isolate your subject

You may have noticed a remarkable feature in a busy scene. It could be a colourful monk at a chaotic festival, for example. Using a telephoto lens, you can zooming right in on that interesting feature to accentuate your subject.

This is do-able with a shorter focal length, but a telephoto lens helps you isolate someone from far away and without their noticing, as we mentioned above.

football player on field

To create a shallow depth of field

Using a telephoto lens means you can create a shallow depth of field, since it’s easier to get blurry backgrounds when you isolate a subject. It’s yet another way to eliminate a distracting background and to have that portrait or feature really pop out of the photograph.

To get in on the action

If you want a picture of your favourite football player or racing driver, you can’t just step into the field of play. It goes without saying that you’ll want that telephoto lens to help you get the close-up shot.

Just remember that at particularly high focal lengths, your pictures are more likely to exhibit camera shake. An easy remedy for this – whether you’re shooting wildlife, a landscape or an activity – is to make sure you have a tripod on you to steady your camera.

Are you looking for more photography advice? Check out some of our other excellent resources on the Camera House blog. And if you’re after that high quality telephoto lens for your next shoot, make sure you browse through our range of camera products online today.

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