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I think telephoto lenses get a bad reputation sometimes...
I mean, some people think that they're only for things like sports or wildlife photography.
Other folks might dismiss a telephoto zoom as being less than optimal because zooms are never as sharp as primes, right?
And while that might be true, it doesn't mean that a telephoto zoom lens isn't a fantastic investment.
In this article, I'd like to convince you of the benefits of a telephoto lens and why a telephoto lens should be counted among the lenses every photographer needs.
Let's get started!
Editor's Tip: Not getting the results you want with your lens? Learn how to read the markings on a lens to help you maximize the results you get.
Telephoto Lenses Offer Beautiful Compression
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One of the best benefits of shooting with a telephoto lens is that they compress the scene.
That means that distant objects - far-off mountains in a landscape scene, for example - appear much closer than they do when photographed with a wide-angle lens.
And while there is certainly something to be said for shooting landscapes with wide-angle lenses and portraits with standard lenses, both of those subjects can also be photographed with a telephoto lens, and photographed beautifully, I might add.
Image Credit: Alan_Lagadu via iStock
In this shot, the compression I mentioned above is in full view.
Notice how the lighthouse is a prominent feature in the image and how the rocky coastline is front and center in the image as well.
Image Credit: Alan_Lagadu via iStock
Contrast that with this shot of a similar scene taken with a shorter focal length.
Though it's a fine shot, the impact of the lighthouse simply isn't the same because it's smaller in the frame.
So, if you want to make your subjects a more prominent feature in your photos, a telephoto lens is a perfect way to do that.
Telephoto Lenses Make It Easy to Blur the Background
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The beautifully blurred background you see in the portrait above is due to a number of factors that influence the depth of field, including the focal length of the lens.
That is, the longer the lens, the shallower the depth of field and the blurrier the background will be.
That makes a telephoto lens a great choice for portraiture.
By blurring the background, you can separate the subject from the background and help viewers zero in on the subject with greater ease.
But that's not just important for portraits.
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Instead, having a blurry background is advantageous in everything from sports photography to wildlife photography.
In the image above, note how the owl is visually separated from the background, even though the owl and the background have a similar color scheme.
That's thanks to that shallow depth of field that throws the background into a beautiful blur while keeping the owl tack-sharp.
Plus, sometimes you want to photograph a subject but the background is cluttered or even ugly. And with a telephoto lens, you can do that with relative ease!
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Telephoto Lenses Help Bring Action Shots to Life
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Another primary benefit of using a telephoto lens is that it can help you bring viewers up close to action.
Whether you're photographing a motorcycle race, a basketball game, or something in between, the longer focal length of a telephoto lens allows you to highlight the details of what's going on without actually being up close to the action.
That, in turn, helps you create images that have a distinct feeling of action and pace.
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Part of that is having the ability to separate the subject from the background, as discussed in the previous section.
But another part of that is being able to pan with a moving subject - thereby keeping it sharp - while the background becomes a hotbed of indicated motion, as seen above.
Notice how the motorcycle and its rider are nice and sharp, but the background is blurry with the indicated motion helping us understand that the rider is moving to our right.
That look would be difficult to replicate with a shorter lens, so again, the longer focal length of a telephoto can be a huge asset for you as you expand your photographic abilities.
If you're in the market for a new lens, I strongly urge you to consider picking up a solid telephoto zoom.
Not only will it help you compress the scene and make your subjects more prominent in the shot, but a telephoto will also help you blur the background and get much closer to action than is possible with shorter focal lengths.
And while many telephoto lenses are very, very expensive, if you look in the right places, you can find high-quality pre-owned lenses that won't bust your budget.
For more insight into why telephoto lenses are such a great investment, check out the video above by Peter McKinnon.