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12 - The Telephoto Eye


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You often hear photographers going on about having ‘the eye’ in photography, and being able ‘to see’. Thing is, there are different eyes for different things. Each lens requires an eye and being able to see with it. Landscape photographers have to develop their wide angled eye and be able to see wide. Portrait lenses require being able to see in a different way. Some photographers develop many eyes and can see through many lenses.

When you realise that looking through a camera lens changes how you view the world, this makes sense. A 50mm lens, or a zoom lens at 50mm, most closely resembles how your eye sees the world, so this tends to be a favourite focal length for many as the images are close to how we all view life naturally.

When you look through a wide angle lens at 10mm, how you see the world changes dramatically. Learning to see wide takes time. The more you use your lenses, the more comfortable you become at seeing the world with a different eye.

I guess most think that telephoto lenses are for zooming in close to wildlife and sports action, and they would be right. This photo of a sleeping grey seal pup would have been impossible with a wide angled lens.


This is probably the most useful way to use a telephoto, but it isn’t the only way. A telephoto can completely change the way you see life.


My favourite lens is my telephoto zoom. When I’m out for fun, it’s always my long telephoto I seem to take with me. Sure, I shoot a lot of wildlife while out and about with it, but for me the real joy in using a long lens is being able to see into a completely new world.

The telephoto world for me isn’t a world of close ups of wildlife, it’s all about gorgeous creamy bokeh. I love the wildlife as well, but that’s simply using your gear to get close. The telephoto eye is much deeper than just zooming.

Backgrounds are crucial to the telephoto eye. Get all the clutter out and compose shots that will produce gorgeous bokeh. When you can see bokeh, that’s when the fun begins.

To illustrate, I’m going to show you a few simple photos to help you learn, photos which anyone could take. This fern leaf was dangling above a small stream. The sun was shining into the water producing gorgeous colours, but there were also sparkles on the surface which I knew would produce a beautifully creamy bokeh. I positioned myself initially about 10ft away then zoomed in, stepped closer and adjusted the focal length until the bokeh was as creamy as I could get it. When I was happy, I focused on the leaf and then recomposed for composition. It is the bokeh that powers the image.


Here is another example, this time a spider’s web above a river which was sparkling in soft sunshine.


You need to be able to see light as well. This leaf was only one of thousands in the sunlit wood, and it took me a few minutes to position myself to catch the light and ensure the bokeh would be pleasing. It isn’t the leaf that makes this image, it’s the out of focus leaves behind it. The bokeh is just as important as the light and the subject.


To develop a telephoto eye, don’t look at what’s in focus, look at what’s out of focus in the background. This image of new life sprouting from a dead tree stump works only because of the bokeh. Sure, the sprout is clearly the subject and the light on it tells the story, but the bokeh is the engine that powers the image.


Would this photo be so pleasing if the background was a mess? I didn’t spend all my time trying to get the bee, I spent all my time looking for the bokeh and then waiting for the bee.


Let’s not forget foreground bokeh either. These white flowers would have been easy to frame without any of the ferns, but shooting through the ferns to produce foreground bokeh makes the image for me. I also made sure there was enough background bokeh to keep the image interesting and pleasing.


To me the real joy of being able to see with a telephoto eye isn’t simply being able to zoom in close to things, but learning to use the exceptional depth of field that telephotos produce to create gorgeous bokeh.



Credits –  All photos copyright George Maciver, all rights reserved.
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Shooting wide and taking landscapes is a big part of my photography, and I do enjoy my 16-55mm. The thing is, the photos I go home with are the same as what I saw with my eyes and basically what everyone else also sees with their eyes. Looking through a telephoto lens allows me to see into a whole new world that I can't look into with my eyes and which no one else can see. This first photo was taken with my 16-55mm, the second with my 200mm f2.




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