The Telephoto Eye

You always hear about having the eye in photography, and being able to see. Thing is, there are different eyes for different things. Each lens requires an eye and being able to see with it. Landscape photographers have to develop their wide angled eye and 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 with a different eye.

I guess most think that telephoto lenses are for zooming in close to wildlife and sports action. This is probably the most useful way to use a telephoto, but it isn’t the only way. A telephoto can completely change the way you see life.

My favourite lens is my telephoto zoom. When I’m out for fun, it’s always my long telephoto I take with me. Sure, I shoot a lot of wildlife while out and about with it, but 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 of close ups of wildlife, it’s all 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 eye. 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 fern leaf was dangling above a small stream. The sun was shining into the water producing gorgeous colours, but there were also sparkles on the surface which I knew would produce a beautifully creamy bokeh. See, this isn’t a photo of a fern leaf, it’s a photo of light and bokeh. The bokeh doesn’t make the fern leaf, the fern leaf makes the bokeh.

You need to be able to see light as well. This leaf was only one of thousands in the sunlit wood, and it took me a few minutes to find it and position myself to catch the light and ensure the bokeh would be pleasing.

To develop a telephoto eye, don’t look at what’s in focus, look at what’s out of focus in the background. This image of new life sprouting from a dead tree stump works only because of the light and the bokeh. Sure, the sprout is clearly the subject and it tells the story, but the bokeh and the light is the engine that powers the image.

Would this photo bee so pleasing if the background was a 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. These white flowers would have been easy to frame without any of the ferns, but shooting through the ferns to produce foreground bokeh makes the image for me. I also made sure there was enough background bokeh to keep the image interesting and pleasing.

To me the real joy of being able to see with a telephoto eye isn’t simply being able to zoom 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.