Telephoto lenses are usually treated as options for sports, wildlife, or other distant action. Many professional photographers even recommend doing without telephoto lenses, because you should instead “zoom with your feet.” With regard to photography in the Disney theme parks, I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard people advise others to only take their telephoto lenses to Animal Kingdom, as that’s the only park where they’ll “need the zoom.” This advice concerning telephoto lenses and the limited idea of what they can do is flat out wrong.
Certainly, telephoto lenses are great options for sports and wildlife photography, but they have far more uses beyond situations where you need more reach. In fact, it’s downright puzzling that serious photographers (especially professionals) wouldn’t understand this. Every lens has separate practical and creative applications. Wide angle lenses give a wider field of view, but they also allow for introducing intentional distortion into scenes, suggesting expanses of space, and clever interplay with lines. 35mm or 50mm prime lenses fairly replicate the human eyes’ field of view, but they also allow for isolating elements of a frame with shallow depth of field. There are examples for every lens, and while the practical uses often define the lens, it’s the ability to harness the creative uses that define the photographer. If every lens has both practical and creative uses, why would a telephoto lens be any different?
It’s not. The difference with a telephoto lens, I think, is that it is much more difficult to use in creative ways, and the practical uses are so apparent that it’s very easy to just be content with using a telephoto lens for ‘zoom.’ I’m not chastising anyone for doing this, as I have done it myself. Telephoto lenses are a challenge to use creatively, and their size often makes it easier to just leave them back in the hotel when you know you won’t need them for their practical purpose. The purpose of this article is to take a look at some of the creative uses, and try to stimulate creativity so you use them for more than just sports, wildlife, and other action. While the examples here will be pulled from the Disney theme parks, the ideas are universally applicable.
Most of these photos are shot with a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens (and in some cases, the Nikon 1.7 II Teleconverter). However, the great thing about the types of shots discussed here is that you don’t need a fancy f/2.8 telephoto lens to achieve these results. This is not to say f/2.8 telephoto lenses aren’t great (they are), but for the shots here, a significantly cheaper Sigma 70-300mm, Tamron 70-300mm VC, or Nikon 55-300mm VR lenses will do the trick, and only cost around $150-400 each. Of course, image and build quality won’t be the same, but they will get the job done.
Let’s take a look at what–besides zoom–telephoto lenses can do! (more…)