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12 Creative Tips for Using a Telephoto Lens

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Related course: Wow Factor Photography

A telephoto lens is one of the most versatile tools you can ever have for photography. Its primary purpose is to take photos of subjects that are far away. But what else can it do?
Read on because we’ll show you a few clever ways to use this incredible lens for just about anything.

How to Use a Telephoto Lens

Before we start with our photography tips, we’ll show you how to use your telephoto lens properly.
For the most part, it works just like any other lens you have. But keep in mind these few suggestions below to get the best results every time.

A photographer holding a DSLR with a telephoto lens

Stabilize Your Shots With a Tripod

Telephoto lenses can be cumbersome. Because of their size and weight, they can cause a lot of camera shake when you hold them.
To avoid any issues with motion blur, bring along a tripod.

Turn Off Image Stabilization

Image stabilization is a feature in the lens or camera that adjusts for any motion while you’re shooting.
It works well when you’re handholding your camera. But it tends to create blurry results when you set it up on a tripod.

Trigger Your Camera With a Remote

As we mentioned, telephoto lenses can cause a lot of motion blur, especially at low shutter speeds. Even when you set your camera on a tripod, there’s a danger you could end up with blurry photos when you press the shutter.
To avoid this potential problem, don’t touch your device at all and trigger it with a remote, instead.

Creative Tips for Using a Telephoto Lens

12. Capture Up Close Images

A man surfing shot with a telephoto lens
The best use for a telephoto lens is to zoom into a scene without being physically close to it. You’ll find it beneficial in situations where you need tight shots of your subject, but you can’t move closer to them.
So is your subject across the river or in the sky? Slap on that telephoto lens to capture images that look like you were only a few feet away.
The sense of intimacy it creates allows people to connect better with your photos even when you’re actually far away.

11. Use It to Fill the Frame

One benefit that the telephoto lens has over other options is its ability to fill the frame. In other words, it crops the scene so much that you can occupy all the corners of the photo with your subject alone.
Of course, filling the frame doesn’t work in all situations. In fact, photographers use this technique sparingly.
But when you need to create extreme close-ups of your subject, a telephoto lens is your best bet.

10. Get Rid of Unappealing Foreground Elements

Mist over a forest of trees shot with a telephoto lens
Photo by John Westrock

Don’t like what you see in the foreground? Then use a telephoto lens to isolate it from the rest of the frame. It only captures scenes from far away. So you don’t have to worry about it including anything that’s close to you.
Of course, you have the option of cropping the image in post. But doing so decreases the quality of your image.
On the other hand, you wouldn’t have to worry about your photo losing detail when you use a telephoto. Why? Because it creates tight shots optically and not by cutting out parts of your picture.

9. Compress the Frame

A telephoto lens tends to make the image look more flat as opposed to shorter lenses. The effect it creates makes the object in the background appear closer to the foreground.
The telephoto lens’ perspective distortion has plenty of uses for creative photography. For instance, you can use it if you want the moon in the sky to look big in your landscape photos.
You can also use it to keep objects looking proportional in still life images.

8. Isolate Your Subject

A black dog running through the snow shot with a telephoto lens
Photo by Patrick Hendry

Telephoto lenses are good at blurring the background. Because of their focal length, they produce smoother bokeh than their shorter counterparts.
For this reason, a lot of photographers who love fuzzy backdrops like to use them.
Apart from creative effects, you can also use bokeh for a more practical purpose. For instance, you can create blur to separate your subject from its surroundings.
That way, your audience can easily find your main point of interest in the photo.

7. Get Close to the Action

Sports photographers love telephoto lenses because they let them get close to the action. With such long optics, they can capture intimate shots without interfering with the athletes.
Next time you find yourself in a sporting event, bring along a telephoto. Use it to zoom into the scene and freeze the action.
And with its bokeh, you can easily separate the athletes from whatever is going on behind them. That way, people can better see what’s going on because the background is not distracting.

6. Capture Tight Portraits

A portrait of a female model posing on a bridge shot with a telephoto lens
Different types of lenses produce different types of distortion. Some of them can make people look fat, while others can make them appear slender.
Medium telephoto lenses are perfect for portraits for many reasons. First, they don’t distort faces like short lenses. Second, their ideal focal lengths also allow you to shoot tight half-body or headshots.
If you want to take close-up portraits of your subjects, try using focal lengths between 85mm to 135mm.
You can technically achieve the same shots with a short lens. But a telephoto allows you to do so without making your model look disproportionate.

5. Create Stunning Landscapes

You can use any lens you want when it comes to landscape photography to create various effects. For instance, you can snap on a fisheye lens to make sceneries look wider.
If you want an image that best reflects what you see, the telephoto would be the best tool for you.
The telephoto creates a more flat perspective as opposed to other lenses. Since it doesn’t distort the image as much as other options, it gives you a better sense of what a place looks like.
Instead of making everything look far and wide, it pulls everything in and compresses it. As a result, you get straight trees instead of warped trunks.

4. Shoot the Moon

A close up photo of the moon shot with a telephoto lens
Telephotos are perfect for astrophotography because they make the celestial bodies look gigantic. To get decent results, you can start with 100mm or higher. The longer the focal length of your optics, the more magnification you have.
The problem with telephotos is that they get more expensive as they get longer. The good news is you can always get cheap telephoto lenses such as the 70-300mm that go for about 200 US dollars.
Once you twist the barrel to 300mm, it should be enough to capture the moon close enough for dramatic photos.
Of course, you can also use your telephoto to pull back and include the landscape for your star photos. As we mentioned, this particular lens compresses the foreground and the background. So it works as well even when you’re including some terrain in your image.

3. Use It as a ‘Macro’ Lens

In strictly technical terms, you can only consider a lens macro if it has 1:1 magnification or higher. In other words, the image captured by the sensor has to be the same size as the subject.
Since telephotos can’t achieve 1:1 ratio, they’re not really macro lenses. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use them for macro photography.
By zooming your lens to photograph tiny objects, you can create closeup photos that replicate real macro shots. It may not be a 1:1 life-size image, but it does an excellent job at magnifying small elements in your frame.

2. Pan for Excellent Motion Blur

Panning is a technique that involves moving the camera parallel to the action. Combined with slow shutter speed, it produces motion blur that adds drama to action shots.
You can pan with any lens, and it’s especially engaging when you’re shooting sports with a telephoto lens.
To create motion blur, you’ll need to adjust your shutter speed to 1/30th or lower. Next, follow your main point of interest as they move in your frame. Then snap a photo while in the middle of an action.
The motion of your camera should produce a fuzzy background. And it also makes your subject look like they’re moving fast.

1. Zoom In to Create Zoom Bursts

A blurry shot of palm trees shot with a telephoto lens on zoom burst mode
You can also use a telephoto to create zoom bursts. It’s a technique that creates motion blur by zooming in or out of a scene.
It’s a distinct effect that makes a photo almost look like you’re looking at everything in warp speed.
Unfortunately, you can’t use a prime telephoto for this technique since it uses the zoom. But any other lens with a variable focal length is perfect for this method.
First, use a slow shutter speed from 1/30th per second or slower. Next, focus on your subject and zoom in as soon as you press the shutter. Because of the slow shutter speed and the sudden change of focus, you’ll end up with a different motion blur.

Conclusion

The secret to different photos is experimenting with your lenses, including telephotos. There are many ways to use this excellent set of optics. So don’t limit its potential to create beautiful photos.
Bring it anywhere you can and use it for anything–even if you’re not sure it would work. Play around with it and who knows, you might end up with a photo that will make you proud.

Looking for more tips? Check out our new post about the best telephoto lens to buy next!

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