When to Use a Telephoto Lens:

I just read an article about using a “Telephoto” lens, or that option on many of the newer cameras, and I have to tell you that I was just not impressed.

Apparently, the author was not a lover of the telephoto because he (or she) felt it lost quality by the “zoom-in” feature of the lens – but for memory pictures, it will become one of the biggest assets you can have, and it’s for free (on the newer cameras).  Let me explain my ideas and justification for the way I feel.

 Suppose you’re trying to get a picture of the movie theater you went to as a kid, but you just can’t get the right angle or some other problem with the “point and shoot” you’re faced with.  The best angle seems to be out in the middle of the street with cars going both ways, and it just isn’t the best idea you had at that moment.  Maybe try getting across the street and changing the angle a bit, then use the telephoto.  Don’t get too close, just closer.  You might even consider going across the street from an upper story office window above the store, – worth asking, and you just might get a lot better picture looking down.

 When you get the picture on your computer, then is the time to clip and change.  Take a dozen or more pictures with the idea I have been saying all along –  save the best and dump the rest.  You’re using a digital camera, so those extra shots cost nothing and you just might get an award winning shot.  If it’s that great, try selling the shot (after you get the written permission from the owner).

Pine cone

Remember this shot?  I was well above it overlooking a lake, maybe 50 feet from the tree.  I wanted the pine cone.

New_1_Pine cone

 Yes, this is the pine cone from the previous picture.  First I used the telephoto, then did the clipping in the computer.  This is the end result.

 This is another example of using the telephoto and clipping on the computer.  The person taking the picture was standing at the end of the table.  She used the telephoto but I also used the computer to clip and center.

me -

 Taking pictures of animals can be tricky at best.  Most animals have a personality, and if possible you want to get some of that personality in the picture.  That is a large part of a memory picture, the personality of the animal.  So to start with —baby-cat

“Image courtesy of [stay2gether] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net”.

 Please understand that Cats own people, not the other way around.  Some will pose, but just only so long – then it’s bye-bye.  You need to stalk a cat, catch them when they least expect it, their “camera guard” is down.  It’s gonna take patience on your part, and being ready is part of the formula, so have the camera in your hand and be ready.  Kittens are great subjects because they don’t have a clue of the above, but they learn early.

 Dogs are just the reverse – spend a little time playing with the dog, especially a puppy, and you will hopefully be set for some great action shots. Make sure the dog has been brushed and groomed well.  Be sure to check the little doggy’s eyes.


“Image courtesy of [Tina Phillips] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net”.

 What about getting a picture of a horse?   Horses get the same training as the cat when it comes to being camera shy.  Oh sure, they can be bribed with an apple, or maybe a carrot, but for the most part, they run to the other side of the pasture, turn around and laugh – or whinny – (snicker for us city folks)  – whichever!


“Image courtesy of [Tina Phillips] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net”.

Remember, the horse is over a half-ton big and sometimes even that can be an under-statement.  If you really believe that you are gonna push that horse to do something it doesn’t really want to do, well, no comment.  Let’s just say that you have an education coming, hopefully the easy way where you don’t get hurt.  When getting a good picture of a horse, you need someone to act as a handler – someone that is well acquainted with horses and knows what to do, and when.  Some horses are naturally calm or well trained, but some aren‘t very trusting and you should treat these animals with a lot of respect.  Never walk behind a horse because he will kick if he thinks you are a threat.  I think it goes without saying that you never make a loud noise, even the flash of the camera can be bad; you just don’t know.  Ask the owner of the horse if he can be petted and where.  It does break the “stranger” sense and helps with that foreign smell (yes, that’s you).

 OK, with that out of the way, look over the animal.  If possible, make sure he is fairly clean, no dust here and there.  Many animals love to roll in the dirt and mud, and will pick up things that destroy the picture.  Even check the eyes to make sure they are clean and free of things that hang on.  Take a bottle of fly spray (you did ask for permission, didn’t you) because your final picture will be ruined if you have flies buzzing around, landing here and there.  Did the mane and tail get brushed so there are no knots or other irregulars hanging around?  You might ask the owner if he can use a nicer looking halter for the pictures.

 Use all the common sense things, such as checking to get the best background for the shots.  It’s always nice when you can get a fitting background, but on a city street you have to infer that it is in a parade or other function.  A stack of empty boxes, or maybe the farm tractor, maybe just a big pile of junk (i.e. an old rusty car) just can’t be a very good background. 

Just use some common sense.  The side of the barn, or maybe some trees make a good pick.  Never use the hay stack, food and pictures don’t mix, unless you intend to study the eating habits of a hungry horse. 

 For light, use the morning or afternoon sun.  The natural light makes the coat actually shine a lot more, and you can contend with a few shadows.  Again, never use the flash; you could have a very frightened animal to contend with.  Again if it’s a horse, half a ton of moving and fighting flesh is nothing to contend with.  Cats have very long claws that can get your attention very quickly.  You might have memories you would rather not have.

Ears are an important part of the animal, and a general rule is to catch the ears pointing up.    Ask the owner what sound would be best as animals are normally trained to do certain things at certain sound signals.  (I.E. a clucking or kissing sound normally will signal the horse to start moving.)  Maybe just snapping your fingers will work.

 Always assume that the animal will move, no matter what so be prepared.  Use the dual shutter release to get rid of the shutter lag on all the new digital cameras.  Don’t position your body to get hurt if the animal uses the tail and takes a swipe at a fly or some other distractgion. 

 Avoid distortion at all costs.  It’’s best if you can get some feet away and use the zoom feature.  By now, you should already be using the zoom for this reason anyway, but it’s more important here.  Sometimes the animal will move into a perfect position and you have the picture without having to reposition yourself.   Just keep taking lots of shots.  Even if you shoot 50, the odds of getting this kind of picture are you will get only one or two “keepers”.

Break the habit of  taking just a couple pictures in one place with one pose.  Move around, get some close in and some out with a couple mid-distance for variety.  You will never know which ones will be good and the others not so good.

Just remember, getting pictures can be fairly easy according to many – just point and shoot – but wait a minute —- it just ain’t that simple my friend.  Try to plan ahead —



About royandsherry

Roy is retired military as a radar controller, both Airborne and Ground. Spent 9 years as a Radio Announcer and retired from the corporate world after 14 years as an information analysist, working with classified information for a computer chip manufacturer. Roy is a commercial pilot (ASEL) and has a degree in Interstate Commerce Commission law. Sherry worked as an aircraft parts inventory specialist as a government employee, later as a scheduler and coordinator for a large flight school and retired from the corporate world as a legal administrative assistant for a very large computer chip manufacturer.
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