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14 - The Telephoto Eye

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You always hear about having the eye in photography, and being able to see. Thing is, different eyes are needed for different lenses. Each lens requires being able to see with a unique eye. Landscape photographers have to develop their wide angled eye to be able to see wide. Portrait lenses require being able to see in a different way. Some photographers develop many eyes and can see through many lenses.

When you realise that looking through a camera lens changes how you view the world, this makes sense. A 50mm lens, or a zoom lens at 50mm, most closely resembles how your eye sees the world, so this tends to be a favourite focal length for many as the images are close to how we all view life naturally. When you look through a wide angle lens at 10mm, how you see the world changes dramatically. Learning to see wide takes time. The more you use your lenses, the more comfortable you become at seeing the world in a different way, with a different eye.

Telephoto lenses are excellent for zooming in close to wildlife and sports action, as with this grey seal pup. The long telephoto has zoomed in and captured terrific detail, as well as throwing the background and foreground out of focus to produce excellent bokeh.


Zooming in close is probably the most useful way to employ a telephoto, but it isn’t the only way. A telephoto can completely change the way you see life. For me the real joy in using a long lens is being able to see into a completely new world.


The telephoto world for me isn’t a world consisting purely of close ups of wildlife, it’s more about gorgeous creamy bokeh. I love the wildlife as well, but that’s simply using your gear to get close. The telephoto eye is so much deeper than just zooming.

Backgrounds are crucial to the telephoto world. Get all the clutter out and compose shots that will produce gorgeous bokeh. When you can see bokeh, that’s when the fun begins. This spider's web was stretched above a river. The sun was shining into the water producing gorgeous colours, but there were also sparkles on the surface which I knew would produce a beautiful creamy bokeh. The bokeh is the engine that powers the image.


To develop a telephoto eye, don’t look at what’s in focus, look at what’s out of focus in the background. For example, would this photo be so pleasing if the background was a cluttered mess? I didn’t spend all my time trying to get the bee, I spent all my time looking for the bokeh and then waiting for the bee.


Let’s not forget foreground bokeh either. This sheep would have been easy to frame without any of the foreground grass, but kneeling down produced foreground bokeh which to me is just as important to the image as the background bokeh.


Developing a telephoto eye isn’t simply zooming in close to things, but learning to use the exceptional depth of field that telephotos produce to create gorgeous bokeh.


Credits -  All photos copyright George Maciver, all rights reserved.

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