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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Telephoto lenses - the simplifying lens

Yesterday we talked about how a telephoto lens really brings the background in nice and close. As I mentioned that often means moving your camera position around until you find a nice, complementary background.

The other thing about telephoto backgrounds, and foregrounds as well for that matter, is that they happen on a very narrow angle of view. What you see is your subject and what is directly behind it in a straight line from your camera angle and nothing else.

That's why your camera position can have such an important effect on not only your background but also what appears to the left and right of your subject. And with a telephoto lens this is often nothing.

The telephoto is a great cleaner-upper (is that a word?) of the frame. Photography is the opposite of painting or drawing. Where those working on canvas start off with a blank sheet and fill in the important details, we start off with a busy mess of irrelevant stuff and have to get rid of most of it until all that's left is the important part of the picture.

The dancer above was on a tiny stage way off in the distance. Not only was the stage very tiny but it was cram packed with people dancing away and there were about ten heads between my head and the stage. From this picture to the right you can see what chaos it was.

Now this is the wide angle version of course. You can see how small and far away the stage looks. The shot above was taken from exactly the same position - mainly me sitting down while I ate my dinner and got off a picture every now and again.

You can see how the telephoto lens' narrow angle of view has highlighted the single dancer amongst a crowd of people. Anybody to the left and right of her are cut off by the edges of the frame.

The other thing working in my favour is the spotlight on the dancer. Because she is in such a bright area and the rest of the stage is so dark (relatively speaking) it fades to black, making it even more of a simple composition. In fact my eyes could see as much detail as you can see in the wide angle picture above but I knew the film wouldn't be able to record it. So the back of the stage would form a nice, clean, simple black background.

So remember that the telephoto lens will only see a narrow angle directly in line of sight of your camera position. Everything to the left and right of it will disappear like magic. So it's a great way of isolating a subject in the middle of a maelstrom.

Oh and just for the record, photographing the dancer without other people around her wasn't the hardest bit, it was keeping the foreground heads out of the frame as people moved left and right trying to get a better view!

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