Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Big-Glass Effect

I remember my first big telephoto lens.
Text & Photography By Tom Bol Published in Shooting
The Big-Glass Effect


It's all about the stability. The real trick to getting great photos using a big telephoto lens is keeping the lens rock-steady. We're not just talking about putting the lens on a tripod and shooting away. Think more like exhaling with the lens pressed against your face as you gently hit the shutter, concentrating on Zen-like thoughts the whole time!

Seriously, proper tripod/lens technique is necessary to get tack-sharp images. Start by using a tripod and head that are big enough to support the lens. Remember, shooting with a 400mm lens is like looking through 8x power binoculars. At this high magnification, the slightest movement results in blurry shots.

Consider leaving your image stabilization on. Some manufacturers recommend leaving the image stabilization on when shooting on a tripod, while other manufacturers recommend turning it off (check your specific lens recommendation). I use a large Gitzo tripod and a Really Right Stuff BH-55 head. This setup works fine to support my 200-400mm lens, and I can adjust the drag for smooth panning shots.

Using the 600mm is another story. For best results with this lens, I use a gimbal head. Gimbal heads allow silky-smooth movement of large telephoto lenses like the 500mm and 600mm. Gimbal heads perfectly balance supertelephotos, allowing easy tracking of moving wildlife. I use a Really Right Stuff side-mount gimbal for my 600mm. The side-mount is lighter and more compact than a full gimbal head, and still offers fluid panning using big glass.


Once the lens is on a tripod, use good technique for sharp images. I start by firmly pressing my face into my camera while supporting the lens with my hand. This technique allows me to deaden any movement. Since eliminating lens shake is critical, choose the fastest shutter speed you can use for your shot. I like to shoot 1?1000 sec. and faster. My Nikon cameras work great at high ISOs, so I regularly shoot at ISO 800 and higher to get the fast shutter speeds I need using my big telephotos.


Supertelephotos offer three unique advantages: magnification, compression and a narrow angle of view. The most obvious telephoto advantage is the ability to bring distant subjects very close. A 600mm magnifies a scene similar to 12x power binoculars. Imagine filling the frame as the football star catches a pass midfield. With supertelephotos, this is possible.

Another advantage is the way telephotos compress elements in a scene. Since they magnify a scene so much, this creates a compression effect that makes subjects in your frame appear closer to each other than they really are. Recently, I was photographing climbers on a glacier. I started photographing them with a wide-angle lens. But then I decided to walk about a quarter-mile away and use a 500mm. This lens compressed the scene, making the glacier look like it was towering above the climbers. Using a supertelephoto lens was much more dramatic than using a wide-angle lens.
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