Picture of young sanskrit students at sunrise in Varanasi

Photographing People Part V: The Long (Lens) & Short of It

I started my photo tip series on photographing people with a post that briefly mentioned the usage of long (telephoto) lenses. I wanted to make sure that photographers knew how to approach people, getting up close with wide-angle lenses, instead of relying on shooting from afar with telephoto lenses. But now that everyone is up to speed, let’s not forget the benefits of all of the tools in the camera bag.

Creative, not Creepy
If you’re drawn to pull out your long lens to photograph people, just make sure you are using it for creative or practical usages instead of as a crutch out of fear of speaking to a stranger. You don’t want to be the photographer across the street aiming a huge lens at someone and then running away when you’ve been spotted.

Isolate the Subject
Compared to wide angle lenses, telephoto lenses naturally give us less depth of field in our photographs. This helps to isolate our subject and lessens a distracting background. But be aware that this also makes locking focus on your subject even more critical.

Picture of tubing in New Braunfels, Texas

I was able to isolate the girls amidst the chaos of a busy tubing river in New Braunfels, Texas, by using a 400mm lens set at f/5.6.

Gets You Closer

Long lenses are a godsend when you simply can’t get physically closer to the subject like at performances, events, and parades. They are also helpful when it isn’t practical or polite to intrude on private moments.

Picture of a roper at a Texas rodeo and women in Basque costumes at a parade

At events like a rodeo (left) in Bastrop, Texas, or a parade (right) in Sun Valley, Idaho, a telephoto lens can be one of the only ways to get “closer” to the action.

Wide or Long?

Why not both? Given my druthers, I’d pack along my 24-70mm any day, but if I’m also toting a long lens, I’ll shoot with both. The more I’ve used long lenses in the last few years for wildlife photography, the more I enjoy also using it for landscapes and people.

Picture of hikers on Vigur Island in Iceland

On a Lindblad/National Geographic Expeditions voyage on Vigur Island in Iceland, I used a long lens to compress the space of our group as we walked through nesting grounds for Arctic terns. The dive-bombing birds would attack the stick instead of our heads.

Picture of people distracting Arctic terns in Icleand

With my own stick cleverly lodged in the back of my coat as protection, I used my wide-angle lens to photograph these guests warding off their visitors. I like both photographs and how different they feel because of the equipment used.

The beautiful thing about photography is that it is subjective. I don’t believe there are rules, only guidelines which can be learned and then pushed, allowing for pure creative exploration. I hope that these posts have given you insight into my creative photographic process with photographing people and inspires you to pick up your camera and start shooting.

4 thoughts on “Photographing People Part V: The Long (Lens) & Short of It

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