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

But photographing fast-action sports and wildlife changes everything. In this mode, it's more about catching the action, and the more frames I get, the better my odds. I set my frame rate to its highest setting for action photography. Nothing sounds better than hearing nine frames a second popping off as a skier flies off a big jump!

The last setting to consider is the lens-focusing range. Most supertelephoto lenses have a lens-barrel switch that allows you to choose the focus range of the lens. If I'm shooting a subject very close, I'll choose the distance setting that includes my close subject. This way when I autofocus, my lens doesn't go out to infinity and back looking for my subject, which is right in front of me. You improve your autofocus speed by choosing the right focusing range.


Use that huge lens hood. Supertelephoto lenses are big by nature. But add on the enormous lens hood, and they look like a piece of military hardware in a war zone. However, the lens hood serves an important purpose. First, it protects the front element. Front protective filters can't be used on large telephoto lenses, so the lens hood keeps damaging objects away from the front element. Second, the lens hood keeps errant sunlight and rain from hitting the front element. I frequently photograph in rain, and the huge lens hood on my 600mm keeps the rain from spotting the front element. And sun flare is eliminated using the lens hood.

There are times when I don't use the lens hood. Sometimes I take off the hood to eliminate lens shake if it's really windy. But this is risky if you have blowing sand and dirt that might hit the front element. I also take my lens hood off in photo blinds. Blind shooting requires you to stay fully enclosed in the blind. If you stick your lens out the window, chances are, you'll scare wildlife away. Taking off the lens hood allows me to get closer to the shooting window in the blind.

Never use your camera strap! One summer, I was photographing grizzly bears at Katmai National Park, and the upper platform was packed with photographers using big telephotos. You could tell who the veterans were: scratched lens hoods, wear marks on the barrels. A few photographers with brand-new long lenses were visibly excited to be capturing grizzly headshots. Then, the unthinkable happened. A photographer took his 600mm off the tripod and starting walking away with the camera/lens supported by his camera strap around his shoulder. I could almost hear the lens mount on his camera cracking under the strain of a 12-pound lens. Supertelephotos have dedicated straps attached to the lens barrel to avoid this issue. Use your telephoto lens strap, not your camera body strap.


In the end, buying a supertelephoto is a big decision. Consider renting a big lens first, and see what you think. But be forewarned: Once you look through that supertelephoto, there's no going back.

To see more of Tom Bol's photography, visit his website at

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