Camera Gear

Making the Most of Your Telephoto Lens, Part 2

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Last time, we talked about some of the things that you can do with telephoto lenses — and some ways to use them that will make it easier to you to get great shots consistently. However, there is a whole lot more to using telephoto lenses than the things I discussed last week. And, in fact, there are more things that can be done than I will be able to discuss today.

Nevertheless, I’d love to give you a taste of a few more interesting telephoto techniques, so when you are ready, here are some of the more advanced things that you can do with your long lenses.

Macro, or More Correctly, “Near Macro” Photography

One of the most interesting things that you can do with telephoto lenses is not taking photos from afar, but taking extreme close up shots. Many photographers refer to this as macro photography, but in truth, most dedicated macro lenses perform better at higher magnifications and are designed to focus at much shorter distances, so for our purposes, we will call macro photography with a telephoto lens “near macro” instead.

With that out of the way, let’s discuss how to produce near macro photographs. All you’ll need to do is use your telephoto lens to focus on a small subject — a flower, a bug or something else. The difficulty here is that telephoto lenses aren’t designed to be within an inch or two of the subject, so you’ll instead need to back off and zoom in until the subject fills the frame.

Another issue that we discussed before is that telephoto lenses are prone to blurriness caused by shaky hands, so make sure that you use a tripod for all of your near-macro photography. The final point is that the depth of field can become extraordinarily narrow — less than a millimeter in some cases. This means that you should always work with the narrowest aperture possible to ensure that you come away with plenty of detail.

Maximizing the Narrow Depth of Field

In the section above, I mentioned that focusing on extremely close subjects with a telephoto lens can be problematic for near macro photography, especially when the image calls for rich details. However, that doesn’t mean that you should always avoid the paper-thin depth of field effect. Sometimes an extremely narrow depth of field is exactly what you need to create a striking image that brings one or two key details to the forefront. With that thought in mind, experiment with your telephoto lens, making sure to learn the depth of field that you can expect from various apertures and focal distances. Once you’ve seen the range of possibilities, you’ll soon find excellent uses for particularly narrow depth of field.

Do Portraits with Telephoto Lenses

When it comes to portraits, most people think of standard lengths around 100mm, but you can also do portraiture with telephoto lenses, too. There are several great reasons to try portraiture with long lenses.

First of all, the long focal length and distance between you and the subject allow you to get interesting perspectives. Another great reason to use telephotos for portraits is that long lenses make distant backgrounds seem closer, which means that they’ll give you a lot of control over the background. So, instead of having a busy city block in the background with a standard lens, a telephoto can isolate the background to a single brick wall from that scene.

The final reason to use a telephoto lens is that it puts a lot of distance between you and your subject. This can often make a subject feel much more at ease than when they have a lens mere feet from their faces. If you do portrait photography and have the occasional uncomfortable client, then this trick can come in handy.

Again, I will stress that there is even more that you can do with telephoto lenses than what I have listed here. Once you learn all the wonderful uses for these lenses, you’ll be hooked on putting them to a variety of unusual uses!


About the author

Will Moneymaker

Will has been creating photographs and exploring his surroundings through his lens since 2000. Follow along as he shares his thoughts and adventures in photography.