How to Use Telephoto Lenses

Telephoto lenses, which are lenses that have been “zoomed in” to a substantial degree, are excellent tools for practically any type of photography, but they aren’t always simple to use.

Telephoto lenses, in particular, amplify camera shake and have a much narrower depth of field than wide-angle lenses. But don’t let that deter you. Telephoto lenses have a distinct way of presenting the world, which may be excellent for your photographs. In this article, I’ll go over how to utilize telephoto lenses in-depth, as well as some of their advantages and how to deal with their specific obstacles. Although I prefer to photograph landscapes, the principles in this post can be applied to any topic you want to photograph.

Focus on Details for Use Telephoto Lenses

Telephoto lenses, unsurprisingly, are highly good for focusing on finer elements in a scene.

Because telephoto lenses have such a restricted field of vision, they make capturing a small portion of the globe easier. A telephoto lens isolates details significantly more easily than a medium or wide-angle lens in everything from dense forests to wide-open vistas. (This isn’t to argue that a wide perspective can’t catch minute details; some of my best photographs accomplish precisely that.) Telephotos, on the other hand, often have a small field of vision, which makes it easier.)

Telephoto Lenses

What kind of specifics are you looking for? That is dependent on the type of photography you enjoy. If you’re a portrait photographer, you can easily catch someone’s face without any distractions. You can concentrate your landscape photography on a single mountain peak and make it the most noticeable feature of your shot. Don’t forget about macro lenses, which are often telephotos and allow you to capture even the finest of details.

This is probably the most essential application of telephoto lenses for me. It isn’t true in every landscape, but a single detail can be more amazing than a large panorama more often than many people believe. All you need is a keen eye and a telephoto lens.

Create Abstract Photos by Using Telephoto Lenses

Making abstract or semi-abstract photographs is one of my favorite uses for a telephoto lens.

Because telephotos can isolate features so well, you’ll be able to capture a little sliver of the picture in certain locations that is absolutely devoid of context – the definition of an abstract shot. Even if you can’t totally eliminate the context, you’ll often wind up with a photograph that concentrates on shapes and patterns rather than a perfectly literal representation of a situation.

Abstract photography appeals to me. It’s all about the fundamentals: light, color, form, and composition. When a spectator can’t determine what a photograph is supposed to show, the image becomes more about its aesthetic aspects. People’s first reactions to an abstract photo taken in Yosemite, for example, will be “Wow, those shapes are really interesting,” rather than “Cool, I also went to Yosemite!”

Telephoto Lenses

Of course, not all abstract photographs must be taken with a telephoto lens, and not all abstract photographs must be taken with a telephoto lens. With a wide-angle lens, you can still photograph abstracts, especially if you can place your camera very close to your subject. If you want to capture abstracts, though, you should have a long lens on hand. It’s one of the most effective techniques to isolate a scene’s features and forms.

Show a Sense of Scale

If you use a wide-angle lens and stand close to a tree with mountains in the background, the tree will appear fairly enormous in comparison to the background:

It all comes down to perspective. The closer you get to an item, the larger it seems in comparison to its surroundings. Although it may appear thus, this appearance is entirely dependent on your camera position rather than the lens you employ. However, if you are really close to something and use a wide-angle lens, your field of view will be so large that viewers will be able to see this relationship much more clearly. (If this is all too much for you, Elizabeth has a thorough tutorial on lens compression, and Nasim has an essay on focal length and subject distortion that you should read.)

When you use a telephoto lens and stand considerably further back, the opposite is true. Then the items appear to have their true relative sizes. If you stand two feet away from a mountain and use a wide-angle lens, the people in front of the mountain will appear gigantic, but if you stand back and zoom in, the mountain will appear larger.

This method can be useful in a variety of circumstances, ranging from landscapes to sports and all in between. If a mountain in an image doesn’t have enough force, I always zoom in; if one of my foreground objects appears to be too enormous, I step back and use a telephoto.

Your longer lens isn’t directly responsible for the increased sense of scale in these photos, but it is an essential element. Your camera position — which, if you use a telephoto, can be further back than normal — determines the viewpoint of your photo.

Getting Enough Depth of Field

The depth of field shrinks considerably as you zoom in.

It’s quite easy to capture a whole landscape within your depth of field when using an ultra-wide lens, such as 14mm. From eight feet to infinity, even a moderate aperture like f/5.6 will display the entire image with extraordinarily high levels of detail.

However, just zooming in to 50mm — not even a telephoto by conventional measures — would require an aperture of around f/22 to get the same depth of focus. (These figures are from my post on how to choose the sharpest aperture.)

Telephoto lenses are fantastic for landscape photography, but if you want the entire picture to be crisp, your subject must be rather far away! If you don’t get exactly what you want, you can focus stack, but this is a time-consuming strategy that isn’t practical for some fast-moving landscapes.

What are your options for dealing with this problem? You’re mostly out of alternatives if a small aperture like f/11 or f/16 doesn’t provide the depth of field you require and you can’t focus stack. If at all possible, try to move further back, albeit this will not be practicable everywhere.

Still, don’t let this deter you from using a telephoto lens to photograph landscapes! Most telephoto-worthy landscapes are far enough away that depth of field isn’t an issue — and you’ll be able to use focus stack instead for the majority of the rest.

Telephoto Lenses

Using Shallow Depth of Field to Your Advantage

You’ll have to work with a short depth of field in the worst-case situation — or, if you’re optimistic, the best-case scenario.

Shallow depth of field is one of the most appealing aspects of photography while also being one of the most irritating aspects of telephoto lenses. This shallow depth of field can be a pain if you want everything in your photo to be sharp; yet, if you want to capture a softly blurred background, it’s ideal.

Telephoto lenses are ideal for this style of photography since they have a naturally smaller depth of focus (provided you stay in the same position). Use a large aperture, such as f/2.8, and approach close to your subject before zooming in. You’ll get a lovely blurred background as a result.

Watch for Camera Shake

Telephoto lenses have the unfortunate tendency to accentuate camera shake in your image. For example, if you’re using poor technique when handholding a lens, a wide-angle lens might never disclose the issue, but a telephoto lens might. A tripod wobbling in the wind, which is more difficult to manage (but still fixable), might result in fuzzy photographs with a telephoto lens, even while wider angles appear to be perfectly crisp.

When using a telephoto lens, you must be extra cautious with your whole setup. Any minor tremor will be amplified, and the problem will only get worse as you use longer lenses.

What are your options for resolving this issue? When using a long lens, be prepared to utilize a tripod to help stabilize the image. Consider utilizing a monopod instead of a tripod if you’re shooting sports or wildlife and need to move your camera more quickly than a tripod allows. If it’s windy, try lowering the tripod’s thinnest sections to see if it helps with stability.

Most importantly, double-check your photographs for sharpness on a regular basis. Examine your photo and zoom in as far as you can. Is the photo appealing? If not, look for spots in your setup where you can eliminate blur. It won’t always be easy, but telephoto lenses offer such a unique viewpoint that the effort is well worth it.

How do you shoot with a telephoto lens?

Tips For Great Telephoto Photography
  • Use A Shutter Release.
  • Turn Off Lens Image Stabilization / Vibration Reduction for Tripod Mounted Cameras.
  • Telephoto Effect – Bringing Far and Near Together.
  • Tightly Frame Your Subject.
  • Isolate Your Subject.
  • Make Use of Ultra Shallow Depth of Field.
  • Think Macro Photography
  • Panning for Action
  • Experiment with Astrophotography

Which is better telephoto or zoom lens?

The ability to adjust the focal length by zooming in and out is a clear advantage of a telephoto lens. This allows you to fine-tune the shot and change the composition of your photos. A fixed focal length lens’ maximum aperture maybe f/2.8, whereas a professional zoom lens’ maximum aperture for a 200-400mm lens will be about f/4.

How far can a telephoto lens zoom?

It can range from a wide-angle zoom (e.g. 18mm – 35mm in old 35mm terminology) to a telephoto zoom (e.g. 200mm – 500mm in old 35mm language). Then there are the newer’ superzooms,’ which range in focal length from 27mm to 400mm or even 600mm, or from wide-angle to usable telephoto. ‘How far’ isn’t a particularly useful term.

Do you really need a telephoto lens?

You can use a telephoto lens to photograph subjects that are further away. This is useful when photographing items that you can’t or doesn’t want to go too near to. Some people may feel more at ease in front of the camera if there is a greater distance between you and your topic.

What is the difference between a wide-angle and telephoto lens?

A wide-angle lens expands your horizontal range, whereas a telephoto lens allows you to zoom in on a distant topic. Wide-angle lenses offer a shallower depth of field, making them unsuitable for situations like portrait photography, where you only want the subject in fine focus.

When would you use a prime telephoto lens?

Prime lenses, with their quick apertures, fine clarity, and creamy bokeh, are a not-so-secret weapon. They’re not the same as the more widely used zoom lenses. This is owing to their capacity to better use available light and distinguish the foreground from the background with an appealing sharpness.


Telephoto lenses are clearly great instruments that, depending on the scene, can produce exactly the appearance you’re wanting.

When I say that my 70-200mm is perhaps my favorite landscape lens, people are always startled. Some photographers just disregard telephoto lenses as a tool for wildlife photography, believing that anything that isn’t a wide-angle isn’t worth utilizing. If this has been your attitude toward things, you may be missing out on some stunning potential images.

You don’t have to be a landscape photographer to appreciate the benefits of telephoto lenses. To capture their subjects’ faces in a more pleasing way, portrait photographers frequently use the “zoom in, stand back” approach. A telephoto lens can also help you focus on the smallest aspects of your picture, bringing the viewer face-to-face with a distant topic if you’re a sports/wildlife photographer.

Telephoto lenses, on the other hand, aren’t appropriate for every photograph. They don’t work if you wish to demonstrate a wide field of vision (unless you resort to a multi-row panorama). There are usually better tools for the job if you’re wanting to exaggerate the scale of surrounding things, such as the foreground in a landscape.

A telephoto lens, on the other hand, should be at the top of your list if you want to show people the details and size of a faraway sight or isolate your subject with a shallow depth of focus. It will be the most-used lens in your kit for many folks.

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