Why Telephoto Lenses Aren’t Just for “Zooming”

14 February 2020

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.

Why Telephoto Lenses Aren’t Just for “Zooming”Why Telephoto Lenses Aren’t Just for “Zooming”

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.

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.

Why Telephoto Lenses Aren’t Just for “Zooming”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.

Why Telephoto Lenses Aren’t Just for “Zooming”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.

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