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Phil Douglis | profile | all galleries >> Gallery Twenty Seven: Bringing far to near with the telephoto lens tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Gallery Twenty Seven: Bringing far to near with the telephoto lens


In Gallery Twenty, I demonstrated how wideangle lenses are used to control perspective and express meaning. In this gallery, I show how its essential counterpart, the telephoto lens, can reach across great distances to bring far subjects near, making them more visible and perhaps more meaningful. The wideangle creates the illusion of deep perspective. The telephoto collapses that illusion of depth, compresses and flattens it, allowing us to create unique and often incongruous juxtapositions of subject and context. The wideangle focuses deeply. The telephoto’s range of focus is shallow. Because of its lack of "depth of field," the telephoto often can create soft backgrounds that emphatically make the subject stand out.

As I've pointed out in Gallery Twenty, there are three kinds of wideangle lenses: super-wide, wide, and semi-wide. Likewise, there are three classifications of telephoto lenses: long, medium, and short. The long lens, with focal lengths ranging from 300mm to 500mm, is used when the subject is distant, small, or physically unapproachable, such as birds, wildlife, sports events, as well as some street photography or photojournalistic subjects. Long telephoto lenses can magnify any camera shake or movement, so require fast shutter speeds, tripod use, or image-stabilization support for clear sharp images. The all-purpose medium telephoto ranges from 135mm to 300mm focal length, and is ideal for unobtrusively photographing people at a distance. It is less vulnerable to the problems caused by camera shake, and can generally be used without a tripod. They are usually somewhat faster than long telephotos, gathering more light into the lens. The short telephoto is often called a portrait lens, with focal lengths ranging from 85mm to 135mm. It is the easiest of the telephoto focal lengths to use, are not prone to softness due to camera shake, and are often very fast, perfect for low light use without flash.

Telephoto lenses thrive on digital cameras, particularly on digital single lens reflexes, which routinely crop the image with a 1.5x “magnification factor.” As a result of this magnification factor on a DSLR, a 100mm short tele becomes a 150mm medium tele, and a 200mm medium tele is turned into a long 300mm tele. (Conversely, DSLRs cripple wideangle lenses – chopping a 24mm true wideangle lens into a 35mm semi-wideangle.)

For my own telephoto needs, for a number of years, I used a series of lightweight advanced digital compact cameras from Panasonic's remarkable FZ line, which feature fast, built-in Leica zoom lenses covering focal lengths from 35mm to 420mm – embracing the entire telephoto range. All of the Panasonics are also equipped with “image stabilization,” a feature which reduces the possibility of blur due to camera shake, allowing me to work without a tripod. As of 2009, I began using Panasonic's lightweight 45-200mm telephoto zoom, which becomes the equivalent of a 90-400mm lens on my Panasonic G1 camera.

In this gallery, I offer telephoto images mostly selected from my archive of digital travel articles posted at: http://www.pnd1.smugmug.com/ I have noted the telephoto focal length used for each photo, expressed in 35mm equivalents.

This gallery is presented in "blog" style. A large thumbnail is displayed for each image, along with a detailed caption explaining how I intended to express my ideas. If you click on the large thumbnail, you can see it in its full size, as well as leave comments and read the comments of others. I hope you will be able to participate in the dialogue. I welcome your comments, suggestions, ideas, and questions, and will be delighted to respond.

( You can view the companion gallery to this one, demonstrating the wideangle lens, at: http://www.pbase.com/pnd1/wideangle_lens )