If you’re interested in pet photography, you’ve likely heard the term “telephoto lens.” It’s one of the most popular lenses for animal photography (of any kind). So telephoto lenses tend to be the staple in most pet photographers’ kits.
Why is this? You’ll find out in this article. We go through six reasons you should use a telephoto lens for pet photography! To illustrate my point further, all of the images in this article were taken with a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM II lens.
Why Use a Telephoto Lens for Pet Photography?
Generally, a telephoto lens is a long lens that lets you photograph distant subjects easily. This is due to how long their focal length is. A lens is considered a telephoto lens if it has a focal length over 60mm.
Many people confuse a telephoto lens with a zoom lens. But they are actually different things. A telephoto lens can be (but does not have to be) a zoom lens.
Telephotos come in a variety of focal lengths. They can be a “medium telephoto” (generally 70-200mm). Or they can be a “super telephoto” (longer than 300mm). And they can be either zoom or prime lenses.
A telephoto lens allows a pet photographer to stay far back and not disturb the pet while taking pictures.
It is extremely useful for action photography in general. But they are also popular in portrait and macro photography. They produce a natural perspective free from distortion caused by using a wide-angle lens.
1. Pets Can Be Themselves, and You Won’t Interrupt the Action
When you take close-up portraits, the personality of some animals may not come through. This is because they are being posed, or they may feel insecure or odd with a stranger in front of them.
And occasionally, the owner’s stress level trying to pose the pet plays a part. It may affect how the animal behaves in front of the lens.
So “hiding” is the key to catching those fun, playful, and iconic moments. When it comes to pet photography, sometimes the best shots are those in which you play no role.
Standing or sitting farther back with a telephoto lens is often beneficial. And you don’t interfere with playful animals in front of you. With the length of a telephoto lens, you can sit quite far back. And the animal won’t even know you’re there!
Whether you have a fixed lens or a variable focal length, you can pick out your subjects at their finest.
Much of my work comes from taking pictures of canine sporting events, such as dog agility contests. The point is to capture beautiful action shots without the dog being distracted by your gear.
And the solution is to sit farther away and shoot with a telephoto lens!
2. Telephoto Lenses Have a Natural, Distortion-Free Perspective
One key highlight of telephoto lenses is that they produce a realistic perspective (minus the incredible zoom).
Lenses without distortion are some of the easiest lenses to use. You do not have to factor in any form of misrepresentation due to curved glass.
When you can photograph something exactly as your eye sees it, the composition becomes easier.
This is especially key for pet portraiture, where you do not want your subject altered in any capacity. Pet owners appreciate it when photographers capture their furry one from a true perspective. It’s best not to distort a pet’s proportions.
3. Telephoto Lenses Are Versatile and Offer Magnification
From action shots to portraits and wild animals to domestic pets… telephoto lenses are as versatile as they are long! Because these lenses feature no distortion, you can use them for many types of photography.
Their magnification offers even more options. You can photograph moments that may not have previously been possible. And you can switch between different types of photography on the fly.
Imagine capturing a photo of a bird perched on a faraway tree. And then you can immediately switch to a wild wolf running after a deer in the distance!
4. You Get a Shallow Depth of Field With Distant Subjects
Most telephoto lenses feature low apertures, which makes them fast lenses. The f-stop ( aperture) tells you how wide the lens can open.
The wider the aperture (a smaller number), the more light it lets in. And this means a shallower depth of field. The smaller the aperture (a larger number), the less light it lets in. And that means a deeper depth of field.
Lenses with a wide aperture are considered “fast” lenses. This is because they can achieve the same exposure with a faster shutter speed.
What this little lesson on lenses leads to is a key benefit of using a telephoto lens. The smaller f-stop means that the lens produces a shallow depth of field. And this lets you isolate distant subjects from whatever cluttered location they are in.
This is exceptionally wonderful if you’re taking photos of a pet in a park. You can highlight the dog you photograph from among the trees or fellow dog friends. The shallow depth of field separates the subject from the background.
5. Many Telephoto Lenses Have Built-In Image Stabilization
Because of their weight, many telephoto lenses have built-in image stabilization. This is often denoted as “IS.” This system counteracts any form of shaking. And it attempts to prevent unintentional motion blur.
Image stabilization compensates for the movement of your camera or lens to produce a more sharp image. Camera shake is a problem at slow shutter speeds or with long focal length lenses, such as telephoto.
This works through a system of electromagnets that move internal glass elements. When you engage the image stabilizer, your camera activates the electromagnets. And it creates a “spring-like” suspension system where the glass absorbs camera shake.
Image stabilization is a fantastic tool, especially in low light! It can help you take photos of difficult pets moving around a lot, in low light, or in action.
6. A Telephoto Lens Is a Worthy Financial Investment
The purchase of new camera gear should never be influenced by resale value. But there is logistic importance to this final reason. If you do pet photography for a living, keeping the future in mind is key. You can view your purchases as investments.
Compared to a camera body, a lens will retain more value when talking about resale. This is because camera bodies advance at a far faster rate. So older bodies become obsolete quickly.
On the other hand, lenses will likely still be in use 5 to 10 years from now (if not even longer). Lens technology does not frequently improve, nor does it do so at such a rapid rate.
Telephoto lenses are very prized in the photography world. You will get a lot of your money back if you sell them even years later!
Drawbacks of Telephoto Lenses for Pet Photography
With every pro, there is a con. So keep the following in mind about telephoto lenses:
- Steep Prices: Telephoto lenses are expensive, especially compared to other lenses. This is because the technology and material required to make these prized pieces of equipment aren’t cheap. Prices can range from $2,000 to $100,000 or more!
- Heavy and Large: Telephoto lenses are not small. Likely one of the smallest is the 70-200mm. But these lenses can weigh up to 40 lb (18 kg). These lenses can be bulky to pack and physically exerting to carry. But you’ll likely reduce time at the gym if you use these lenses often!
- May Need a Monopod: Due to their sheer size, many telephoto lens models require you to use a monopod to compensate for their length and weight.
- Long Focus Distance: These lenses are intended for subjects farther away. So they won’t focus on subjects close up. Often pets need to be several feet away.
- Difficulty Focusing: With any faraway subject, it can be difficult to nail the focus. It’s even more difficult with a shallow depth of field. So this requires lots of practice!
Conclusion: A Telephoto Lens for Pet Photography
You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of a telephoto lens and decide if it’s right for you. But we think telephoto lenses are a fantastic investment if you’re a pet photographer (as you can see from the pictures!).
From their versatility to their capability, these nifty long lenses will not only make you aesthetically stand out from the crowd. You’ll also have fantastic images to show for it. If you’re a Canon user, the 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM II is a fantastic lens. Otherwise, you can read our article on the best 70-200mm lenses.