Go Long!

Last week, I talked about the normal lens, so I thought I'd go to the far extreme, the super telephoto (any lens with a focal length greater than 200mm).  These are the lenses everyone gets excited about.  They can compress scenes with a wide depth; safely bring you closer to dangerous subjects and environments; put you on a stage without disturbing the performance; and give you great bokeh when the lens is opened to wide apertures.  I love using them.

Nature photographer with Nikon 200-400mm lensLong focal lenses require a little more work because any movement will be magnified and they tend to be quite heavy.  With all but the most expensive super telephotos, the additional focal length will require extra light from the scene or a boost to your ISO, so you can keep the shutter speeds as high as possible.  A good rule of thumb is to shoot with a minimum shutter speed of the inverse of the focal length.  So, with a 400mm lens, you should aim for 1/400 of a second or higher. For support and to keep camera shake at a minimum, use a monopod or, better yet, a sturdy tripod to keep your photos sharp.  Whenever I remember to put the shutter release in my photo bag, I use that, too, to reduce any vibration from the shutter button being pressed.

close up of an Arctic wolf in Denali National Park, Alaska

Nature photographers love these lenses for the ability to make animal photos from a safe distance.  The distance allows you to photograph the animals without your presence being known.  You would never want to disturb wild animals, especially those animals that could cause harm to your equipment....or you.  Of course, not all animals are dangerous - some are just skittish when photographers try to get close to them.  You can now give them the space they need.

photo of grizzley bears in Denali National Park, Alaska

Seagull at sunrise, at Cocoa Beach, Florida

You'll see these lenses at all the sporting events.  They allow you to get closer to really big events or zero in to isolate a particular player at a crucial moment.

Green flag at Dover NASCAR race 2012

Josh Willingham of the Washington Nationals fouls another ball.

Although, most folks think super telephotos are for nature and sports photographers, you can use the lens for many more subjects. The compression effect you get from telephotos make this a good lens for portraits, though you will be further away than usual.  The bokeh from these lens can be very good, especially as you near the minimum focusing distance.

hats at the Gold Cup Race, The Plains, Virginia, 2012

photo of guitar player in a blues bar

In fact, at the minimum focus distance, you can get very close in to photograph small details.

high heel on a chair photo

This lens can be used to give the impression that the distance between objects is compressed.  This works well with repeating patterns, especially if you photograph them at an angle.

photo abstract from Leesylvania Park, Woodbridge, Virginia

Are convinced you need one of these fine pieces of glass?  Well, start saving your pennies.  The best examples of these lenses cost between $5,000 and $18,000.  You can add a teleconverter to your longer zooms, say a 70-200mm, but these lenses aren't cheap either.  And a teleconverter will cause you to lose 1-2 stops of light.  The best way to try them out is a rental.  We are lucky and have a great, local camera store that carries them, ACE Photo.  I also really like lensrental.com.  I have used them several times and have always been satisfied with their equipment and service.  When you rent, give yourself plenty of time to get used to it before you go out for your photoshoot.  You want to make sure you know how to handle the lens before you get out there or you'll miss photos while trying to get comfortable with it.

Super telephotos require a little more effort than you may be used to, but there are times they are necessary.  And using them will give you another way to expand your knowledge.  Oh, yeah, they are really fun to use.

rafters on the Nantahala River, North Carolina

Another giveaway!  If you leave a comment here or on our Facebook page between now and 31 March, we’ll enter your name into the drawing for another great prize.  Light It. Shoot It. Retouch It. is a three DVD set from Kelby Training.  It retails for $199.99.  Leave us a comment (only one per day will qualify) for your chance to win this great prize.  Our thanks to you.