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Telephoto Lens Guide | 4 Effective Tips In Using A Telephoto Zoom Lens


Written By Marvin Uy

This is a guest post by Marvin Uy, an avid photographer based in Manila, Philippines. Marvin shares some really helpful and practical tips on how to effectively use your telephoto zoom lens for different types of photography.

The article applies to any type of mid-to-telephoto zoom lens whether you’re shooting Canon, Nikon, Sony, or whatever. The principles are the same.

Majority of first-time DSLR buyers purchase a mid-to-telephoto zoom lens as their first add-on lens. Manufacturers often bundle such lenses with the standard 18-55mm kit lenses for good reasons. The combined focal length from 18mm all the way to 200+mm covers practically all photographic needs in terms of focal range.

Mid-to-telephoto zoom lens often starts at 55mm and stretches all the way to 300mm range. The standard Nikon 55-200mm and Canon EF-S 55-250mm , for example, are best sellers because they are packaged with the camera kit most of the time.

For many, they prefer a longer focal length range like the Nikkor 70-300mm AF-S VR, which is extremely popular and versatile as well.

The combination of long focal range plus sophisticated anti-shake mechanisms built into these telephoto zoom lenses make them easy to use too.

Telephoto Zoom Lens Quick Tips

I’d like to share my shooting style with a telephoto zoom lens, a Nikkor 70-300mm AF-S VR in particular as that’s the lens I use often. All the tips below works for any telephoto zoom lens regardless of brand and mount.

I – Fill the Scene and Framing

Fill the frame it has a lot of reach but instead of shooting a bird, plane or the moon with lots of empty spaces. Why not try to frame it by using some foreground like this?

eagle - telephoto zoom lens tutorial

My favorite foreground is a tree but it can be anything like buntings from a fiesta to frame the moon or a candle holder with danglers to even flutter a bride in an image. It keeps the images more interesting than rather seeing just the subject.

moon telephoto zoom lens tutorial

moon shot - telephoto zoom lens tutorial

II – Isolation of Subject

Isolate the subject from the clutter. I had a fun shoot with my friends at Wawa dam we were expecting the place to be pristine because one of my friends shoot the place 2 years ago and it was clean and not frequent by visitors. But upon arriving at the dam this is what we saw. Instead of using my wide lens I decided to just isolate a subject from the chaotic scene. The results is amazing!

I didn’t need an ND (neutral density) filter for this as the lighting conditions was not that harsh and the Nikkor 70-300mm AF-S VR telephoto zoom lens smallest aperture when zoomed all the way to 300mm is F/40. So I can intentionally drag (slow down) the shutter to make the water appear silky smooth.

waterfall - telephoto zoom lens tutorial

Extracting details and scenes from your landscapes when you hear landscape Ultra wide angle comes into mind. But don’t neglect the details. Any telephoto zoom lens is excellent at extracting scenes and details. That is why I always bring one during my out of town trips.

III – Scene Compression

When using a telephoto lens, we tend to stand farther away from the subject and with the chance of the camera position and a longer focal length, we tend to compress the scene making the background appear closer or bigger in relation to the subject.

Take note that the changing of the position of the camera/photographer to maintain the subject size that’s causing the compression, not the lens itself. For more information, refer to this article – Relation Between Focal Length and Perspective.

One more reason I love using a telephoto zoom lens like the Nikkor 70-300mm AF-S VR is because I bagged 1st place in the recent 15th Philippine Hot Air balloon Festival hosted by Digital Photographer Philippines and Caltex with my shot using this lens!


It was the only entry among the Top 20 finalist that was taken outside the area. It was a picture of a father and daughter watching the flight of the hot air balloons on top of their van.

Funny I was late for the take off of the balloons, but with the help of a flexible and useful telephoto zoom lens, I still got a keeper even if it didn’t win the photo contest.

IV – Increase Separation Using Rim Lighting

Rim light your subject with ease – Flatter your subject easily with the use of Rim lighting technique which you can easily do with this type of lens.

It is easy because telephoto zoom lens easily clears out clutter and you can easily pick out a background. The first photo in the pool area was shot when the sun was really high and harsh it was around 9 AM in the morning. The other photo was shoot around 1030 PM.


In order to execute this properly pick a background which has a lot of shadows. Similar to your subject’s face, when you look at the scene your subject whole face is filled with shadow and your background is filled with shadow.

When you use evaluative metering and set it to 0 EV the face and the background will expose evenly leaving the hair and the edge of the subject’s body glowing. You can use the shadow on the ground of your subject as a guide. It should be pointing towards you or in your general area. No reflectors or speedlights required.

The four tips given applies to any mid-to-tele zoom lens. You don’t need an expensive, fast aperture telephoto zoom lens to get the same effects as the examples show above, with ample practice, you can maximize the use of your long lens to its potential.

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