Photography News Issue 41

Photography News | Issue 41 |

Technique 22

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Get more fromyour telephoto lens Improve your telephoto technique in four easy steps and you’ll soon see the benefit in your pictures... PART 2

1 Fill the frame

3 Steady as she goes

The high focal lengths of telephoto lenses mean that camera shake (vibrations passed to the camera from your hands), are more noticeable than when shooting at shorter focal lengths. Camera shake causes fine detail to blur and if you’re shooting wildlife, it can be particularly noticeable in fur and plumage. The key to beating it is to keep the camera and lens as still as possible when shooting. Image stabilisation can go some way to doing this, but it’s no match for proper technique. For the sharpest results, and if your subject allows it, always shoot with a tripod, bracing the camera further by gently pressing your head against it while using the viewfinder, and also pressing lightly down on the lens. The tripod legs should be extended as little as possible. Many pros who shoot telephoto use gimbal heads which allow lots of flexibility in composition, but you can use a ball-head too; just increase the friction slightly if you have the option, so its movement is firm, but it can still be repositioned. Using a monopod will also increase sharpness, but is more useful for subjects where you’re likely to be panning, or need to change your shooting position a lot. And if you have neither tripod nor monopod, switch on the lens’s image stabilisation and try to brace yourself against a tree, fence, or even use your kit bag for support. If you have to handhold the lens alone, tuck your elbows into your body and support the very end of the lens with your hand to increase stability. Finally, avoid jabbing at the shutter button. Instead, squeeze it gently and control your breathing as you do. It all helps increase the sharpness in the shot.

The point of a telephoto lens is to get you closer to the action, filling the frame with your subject, to make the most of its detail and form. This means not being shy when it comes to how tightly you compose. The problem is obvious in many telephoto shots, which, despite having a great subject, lack impact because there’s too much vacant space around the focal point. The general rule is that if the background or environment isn’t saying something important in the picture, it’s better to crop it out and be more selective. You can leave a little space for the subject to look into, but too much can feel ‘empty’. Of course there are good cases to be made for minimalist compositions, but these are rare in comparison to the main telephoto subjects.

2 Keep the shutter speed up

It’s not only good camera support that helps improve sharpness, the shutter speed you use is also a big factor. There’s an old rule which states you should be able to match your shutter speed to the focal length you’re shooting at, and you can think of this as ‘1/focal length’. So, if you’re shooting at 200mm, a minimum shutter speed of 1/200sec would be advisable to keep the picture sharp (assuming you can hold the camera fairly still). Using image stabilisation muddies the water a little, because if the technology claims to give you a three stop advantage, you can, in theory, enjoy the same sharpness at 1/30sec as you would at 1/250sec unstabilised. In practise though it’s good to keep as close to the ‘1/focal length’ rule as possible, and just enjoy the extra benefits that image stabilisation brings as a bonus. Therefore, if you’re falling a long way short of the required shutter speed and can’t open the aperture any further, make sure you increase the ISO setting; a little extra noise is better than a blurred image. Another good reason for not relying completely on image stabilisation, is that it makes no difference to subject movement. So you might be safe from camera shake, but get blur if your subject is moving too quickly for the shutter to freeze them.

4 Choose the right aperture and focal length

f/5.6 to f/8. In any case, the optical properties of telephotos mean you’ll still get a shallow depth-of-field at middling apertures. Good composition can help here, too: pick a shooting angle that allows a sufficiently plain background to your subject and you can shoot with smaller apertures like f/8 or f/11, which will not only offer greater clarity, but also help keep more of the subject in focus, from front to back.

The temptation with telephotos is to push them to their limits, shooting at the longest focal lengths and the widest apertures. But lenses aren’t always at their best at these extremes, and you’ll find that sharpness can fall off, and vignetting can be stronger. So, don’t automatically push your lens to its maximum. Using focal lengths slightly shorter than the maximum helps, as does stopping down the aperture slightly, say from f/2.8 to f/4, or

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