|Nikon D3S, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/125, & 300mm using a Alienbees 1600 Flash for fill flash.|
“What I need is a telephoto lens.” We’ve all said this. It doesn’t take long to discover we can’t get close enough to our subjects with a “normal” lens.
If you have kids in sports or the performing arts or if your interest is photographing birds or wild animals either rules or common sense keep our subjects just too far away for interesting photos without a long lens.
Professional photographers reach for their telephoto lenses for the same reason – to fill the frame with the subject.
If they can, the professional photographer may use their longer lenses to tie a subject to its soundings. In an earlier blog post (here) I talked about using wide-angle lenses to show a person in their environment. This can still be accomplished with the use of remote control cameras put in place prior to an event. A remotely controlled camera taking pictures up close of a lion feeding on a carcass beats than risking your life.
One of the most creative tools a photographer has is controlling depth-of-field. Depth-of-field is simply the area in focus in front of and behind the point focused of focus. Telephoto lenses have shallow depth-of-field as compared to wide-angle lenses. With either lens the smaller the f-stop (f/16 vs. f/8) the deeper the depth-of-field. Of course, the reverse is true. With either type of lens the depth-of-field is shallower the more open the f-number (f/4 vs. f/5.6).
|Nikon D3S, ISO 200, f/1.4, 1/1600, & 85mm using a Nikon SB900 off camera triggered by Nikon SU800 for fill flash.|
|This is a crop of the above photograph. You can see the tip of the nose and just behind the eyes are out of focus. This is what we call a shallow depth of field.|
By controlling (limiting) the depth-of-field you can force the viewer ‘s attention to only what you want them to see. Take a picture of a football receiver catching the ball. If everything was sharp (large depth-of-field) it would be difficult to distinguish the main subject from everything. However, if the same picture were made using a telephoto lens with a shallow depth-of-field The player and the ball would “pop.” You would have isolated the player and the ball from the rest of the picture, thus calling attention to what you want the viewer to see.
Portrait photographers use medium telephoto lenses to call attention to the face and not the background both in indoor and outdoor portraits.
When you increase the depth-of-field with a telephoto lens, more in focus from front to back of the photo, it will make things appear close together from foreground to the background. The wide-angle lens makes things appear farther apart. Objects in a photograph made with a telephoto lens make those objects appear closer together than in “real life.” The longer (more powerful) the lens the closer together they will appear as well as closer to you. It’s a powerful tool. You can use it to make all kinds of statements.
|Nikon D2X, ISO 200, f/4, 1/1000, & 840mm|
A sports photographer may use this technique to show a baseball pitcher in his windup; the scoreboard in the background shows a full count and the bottom of the 9th; You can see, again from the score board brought up close behind the pitcher that it is a no-hitter. Now that’s a story telling and powerful photograph all because of the creative use of telephoto lenses and selective focus.
If the photographer had used a shallow depth-of-field you couldn’t read the scoreboard or if a wide-angle lens was used the scoreboard would have been too far away to read.
|Nikon D2X, ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/2500, & 840mm|
In portrait photography a medium telephoto lens shows faces in a normal perspective as compared to the distortion a wide-angle lens. A moderate telephoto lens of say 80mm to 100mm lens on a 35mm camera will put you about five to seven feet from the subject for a head and shoulder’s photograph.
When photographing wildlife the rule of thumb is to use a minimum of 300 mm lens to fill the frame. You don’t want to be five to seven feet from wildlife. That’s why wildlife photographers use 400mm, 500mm, 600mm or even as long as 800mm lenses.
When you begin to shop for a telephoto lens you’ll find many choices for the same focal length lens. Nikon makes lenses that cost a few hundred dollars on to up to $25,000. The ƒ-stop (aperture) is a big factor in the cost. The lower the number (faster the lens) the more expensive and heavier the lens.
There are two advantages to the faster lenses. First of all the faster lenses, like ƒ/2.8, allow taking photos in less light. This is important for the wildlife photographer in the woods at dawn or dusk when the animals are out.
|Nikon D2X, ISO 400, f/2.8, 1/1000, & 400mm|
The second advantage of the faster lenses – they allow for more shallow depth-of-field.
It is possible to rent these longer, faster lenses from some rental houses in major cities instead of buying them.
Before mounting a lens on your camera ask yourself, “What do I want to say with this picture? What effect will help me to communicate this message to my audience?
What lens will it be?
When you reach for a telephoto lens, it may be for more than just to make the subject appear closer. Just as wide-angle lenses not only include more stuff, any lens is a tool that can be used to make your point.