How To Use a Telephoto Lens? 7 Secrets to Great Photos

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Did you recently buy a telephoto lens because you want to expand your skills or try other photography styles? If you always shoot with a standard or wide-angle lens, you might find a telephoto challenging to use at first. So we will share some tips on using a long lens properly.

To use a telephoto lens, you must always consider the composition. This long lens has a narrow field of view that makes it difficult to include everything in the frame. It also magnifies camera shake, so you should constantly keep image stabilization on. 

Those are just two things you can try to improve the final image significantly. This article will guide you through other ways to capture great photos. But first, we will cover the definition and benefits of using a telephoto lens.

What Is a Telephoto Lens?

What Is a Telephoto Lens

A telephoto lens is any lens with a long focal length and a narrow field of view. A normal or standard focal length is 50mm. It shows an image that closely resembles what the human eye sees.

Telephoto lenses have a 70mm to 600mm focal length or longer. They also have a high magnification rate. They can make the subject appear much closer and larger than in real life. 

Telephoto lenses have many uses in photography. They can help you bring distant objects closer, capture details, and isolate subjects from the background. These are otherwise challenging to achieve with wide-angle lenses that have shorter focal lengths. 

What Are the Different Types of Telephoto Lenses?

Telephoto lenses come in either prime or zoom versions.

A prime telephoto lens has a fixed focal length. It is usually smaller and lighter than their zoom counterparts. It also tends to have a larger maximum aperture to let more light inside the camera sensor. However, it lacks the flexibility of a zoom lens.

Meanwhile, a zoom telephoto lens offers variable focal lengths. It is convenient because you don’t have to physically get near or further away from the subject. Simply zoom in or out by turning the lens to change between focal lengths. It can also suit different types of photography. However, zoom lenses come with several downsides. These include poor image quality (due to moving parts) and the bulky size of the zoom lens.

Telephoto lenses can also be classified into different types, depending on their focal length.

  • Short telephoto lens – It has an 85mm to 135mm focal length in a 35mm or full-frame sensor. It is ideal for portraits, landscapes, street photography, and general telephoto shooting.
  • Medium telephoto lens – It offers a slightly longer focal length ranging from 135mm to 300mm. It can capture wildlife, sports, and action from a distance.
  • Super telephoto lens – It features a staggering 300mm (or greater) focal length. It suits extreme action, sports, birds, and astrophotography.

How To Use a Telephoto Lens? 7 Ways to Capture a Great Image

Now that you understand telephoto lenses better, you may wonder how to use them to your advantage. 

Below are some tips on using a telephoto lens to capture beautiful photos.

Bring Far Subjects Close

The most common use of a telephoto lens is to bring distant objects near you. The longer the focal length of the lens, the farther away you can see. It is a great choice for capturing birds, wildlife, sports, and more from a far distance. 

A greater focal length also means a narrower field of view. You must carefully choose the elements to include within the frame since you cannot capture everything. You can simply photograph an athlete’s facial expression or a headshot of a lion. Make sure that your subject is in focus to ensure professional-looking images.

Fill the Frame

If you find distracting elements in the foreground or background, you can use a telephoto lens to shoot over them.

For example, if bleachers are blocking your view of the stadium where athletes play, you can easily zoom in with a telephoto. You can also fill the frame with the entire subject to emphasize it.

Adjust Aperture Settings Accordingly

The aperture describes the lens opening. It affects several aspects of an image, including exposure, depth of field, and final image quality.

A larger aperture (or low f-stop number) lets more light inside the camera sensor. It also offers a shallow depth of field to isolate the subject from the background.

Meanwhile, a smaller aperture (or high f-stop number) can limit the light entering the sensor. It gives you a deeper depth of field to keep most of the background in focus.

With a telephoto lens, you usually get a small maximum aperture of around f/5.6 or f/6.3. However, you may find it surprising that using an aperture of f/8 can still give you considerable depth of field. That means you can capture an image with stunning bokeh or out-of-focus effect. 

If you want the whole scene to be sharp, you must change the aperture settings as needed. Set the f-number to f/11 or f/16 to achieve the depth of field you need. Note that you will need to use a slower shutter speed or a high ISO to ensure proper exposure.

Use a Shallow Depth of Field to Blur Backgrounds

Achieving a beautifully blurred background is easier with most telephoto lenses than using wide-angle lenses. This out-of-focus effect is desirable in portraiture, wildlife, and other types of photography. 

You can use an aperture of f/8 or lower to get a shallow depth of field. Focus on the subject or a portion of it to isolate it from the background. 

If adjusting the aperture is not enough, you can use the longest focal length of your telephoto zoom lens. Get near the subject as possible to shrink the depth of field.

Minimize Camera Shake

Besides the subject, a telephoto lens can also magnify any camera shake or movement. It is essential to stabilize your camera to capture a sharp image.

You can use a sturdy tripod to eliminate camera movement. Your hands will also thank you for using a tripod because it does the heavy lifting of the camera for you. 

If you want to stay mobile, especially when shooting wildlife or sports, you can get a monopod instead. Check its bearing capacity to ensure it can handle the combined weight of your camera and lens, especially if it is a telephoto zoom lens.

You can also turn on vibration reduction technology on your lens. Most professional or high-end telephoto lenses have this built-in feature. You can find it as IS (Image Stabilization) in Canon lenses, VR (Vibration Reduction) in Nikon glass, and OSS (Optical Steady Shot) for Sony lenses.

Consider Using Lens Filters

Lens filters can be beneficial when using a telephoto camera lens.

The most popular filter to attach is the UV or ultraviolet filter. It can block harmful UV rays from damaging the lens surface. A UV filter also protects the front of your lens from dust, moisture, scratches, and other outdoor elements. Plus, it can bring out the colors of your image.

However, before attaching a lens filter, you must carefully consider the diameter of the lens. It must match the filter size to ensure it will fit on your telephoto lens.

Try a Crop-Sensor Camera

If you want to get even closer to the subject, you can attach the telephoto lens to a crop-sensor camera. It captures photos with a 1.5 or smaller crop factor. That means it can increase the effective focal length of your lens. For example, a 200mm telephoto lens on a full-frame camera offers an equivalent field of view of a 300mm lens on a crop-sensor camera with a 1.5x crop factor.

However, a crop-sensor or APS-C camera has a smaller sensor size. It allows less light inside, which can affect image quality. Some telephoto lenses are also incompatible with crop cameras. They cannot use the entire image circle, leading to vignetting or dark corners.

When Is the Best Time to Use a Telephoto Lens?

The best time to use a telephoto lens is if you want to capture subjects from afar. It is also a great choice if you want to fill the frame with an object or photograph tiny details.

This long focal length lens is ideal for action, bird, portrait, sports, and wildlife photography. However, a telephoto camera lens can also suit landscape and street photography. It isolates the subject from the background and gives you a unique perspective.


A telephoto lens is any lens with a longer focal length than 50mm. It can bring distant objects near, highlight details, and compress the frame for a unique perspective.

To use a telephoto lens, consider the image composition. You can fill the frame with the subject or isolate the subject from the background. You might also want to use the proper aperture to get the ideal depth of field. Follow our other tips above to capture beautiful photos with your telephoto lens. 

Do you have more questions about using a telephoto lens? Feel free to send them to our contact page.