Why Telephoto Lenses Aren’t Just for “Zooming”

14/02/2020 1:59 pm

Telephoto lenses are often the next lens a person buys when building up their photography kit. This is usually so they can “get closer to the action”. These lenses in the traditional DSLR measurements range from 70mm to anywhere up to 1200mm. Because of their stronger magnification over the standard kit lenses, it is easy to assume that it is used for photographing things far away like wildlife or at concerts. To think this way is to waste a powerful tool for many creative applications.

Many people view the wide range of focal lengths that lenses offer as a replacement for having the need to walk or to solve the problem of cramped spaces or distance. Instead, we need to understand that different focal lengths can create completely different looks in a photograph.

The characteristics of a telephoto lens work to magnify, compress space and narrow the viewing angle. With a little pre-visualisation, it is possible to use these lenses in ways you might not have considered.

The Many Benefits of Telephoto Lenses

Simplifying Busy Backgrounds

Because a telephoto lens offers a narrower viewing angle, this is useful if you have some
distracting elements in the background that you want to leave out. When shooting this way, you will
notice that only the elements right behind your main subject will be in view, rather than other
background objects in your wider field of view.

Isolating Subjects

Shooting with a telephoto lens that has a wide aperture (f1.4-f2.8) helps your subject pop out of the
background. This is achieved by the main subject being sharp while the background elements
become completely out of focus (provided they are far back enough). This shallow depth of field
effect that wide apertures create become even more pronounced when shooting with a telephoto lens.

Jason Lau - Why Telephoto Lenses Aren't Just For Zooming

Viewers often have positive responses to these type of images because it is clear what you are wanting them to see and the unnecessary background just becomes a pleasant blur.

Jason Lau - Why Telephoto Lenses Aren't Just For Zooming




Compressing Space

Ever seen those awesome super moon photos where it looks bigger than the house it’s next to?
Well, they are created by very powerful telephoto lenses. Often, these photographers wait until the
moon is close to the horizon, and the compressing effect of a telephoto lens makes the moon and
whatever it is next to on the horizon appear very close to each other. This technique is useful for
composing subjects together, helping bring background and foreground elements together to show

More Flattering Portraits

Photos of people often benefit from being photographed with telephoto lenses, something in the
range of 70mm to 200mm. Because of the compressing effect mentioned earlier, all the bits that
stick out of our heads and bodies tend to appear a little more reasonably proportioned.
Photographed like this with a wide aperture helps isolate the subject, making a more striking and
flattering image.

Step Back and See What Happens

You may already have a telephoto lens but it has lain neglected in your camera bag because it’s been awhile since your last safari holiday. Perhaps you are considering your next lens purchase?

Either way, experimenting with telephoto lenses beyond “zooming in” is a worthwhile skill to develop. So next time when you are struggling to make a shot work, step back with your telephoto lens and see what new solutions this brings.

Jason Lau - Why Telephoto Lenses Aren't Just For Zooming

Jason Lau - Why Telephoto Lenses Aren't Just For Zooming
Jason Lau - Why Telephoto Lenses Aren't Just For Zooming
Jason Lau - Why Telephoto Lenses Aren't Just For Zooming

All images shot with the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and the Canon EF 85mm f1.8 or 70-200mm f4 L lens.

Looking for more Photography tips?

Jason Lau and our other Masters are often stopping by our Photography blog to share advice and expert tips. If you are in the market for a telephoto lens you can shop online or head into your local Ted's store - our friendly staff are always happy to help.


Love the photos, now I will have to get my telephoto lens out and have a play
Comment by Brian Marsden - 24/11/2015 5:43 pm
Great pics...I still need some tuition on this type of lens although I have one but do not use it enough to get these effects with my pics.....How close should you be to subject ...or am I missing the point ??
Comment by Robert Davis - 30/11/2015 12:56 pm
I would like to know if you have classes on this type of Photography, I have a Canon EOS 7D and have started to learn how to use it through going on other photography tours, I would like to learn more about photography as I do travel a lot.
If you have any classes next year could you please send me an email.

Comment by Jan Webster - 7/12/2015 11:01 am
Very useful revision. But you go even further; - by grouping these points together (& with photo examples ), you have made a terrific set of memorable tips.
Comment by Athina - 7/12/2015 11:53 am
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