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Aug 2, 2017 // 5:16 PM

6 Tips For Getting Sharper Photos With A Super Telephoto Lens

Written by Meg Tetrault

One of the most exciting aspects of being a photographer is shooting with a super telephoto lens. While many of these lenses are out of the price range to buy, they are a great item to rent. The only downfall to renting is that you'll only have the lens for a limited amount of time. Read these 6 tips to getting sharper images to make sure you're getting great images right from the start!

1. Choose the right shutter speed

Selecting the shutter speed is one of the most important tasks when photographing anything. As a standard rule, the shutter speed should be equal to, or faster than, the focal length of the lens. That means if you are shooting with a Canon 500mm lens, you should should set your shutter speed to be at least 1/500th of a second. 

Shooting at less than 1/500th of a second can affect the sharpness of the image by introducing camera shake. If your lens has image stabilization, you may be able to shoot at a slower shutter speed, but we'll get into that a bit later in this post!  

Note: If you are using a cropped sensor, you'll need to multiple the crop factor by the focal length to figure out the proper shutter speed. If you are using a 500mm lens and you have a 1.5 cropped sensor, you'd effectively need to shoot at 1/750th of a second to achieve sharp images. 1/1000th would be ideal.

elephant-red-dust.jpg
Canon Rebel T3i | 123mm | f/5 | 1/1250s | ISO 200

2. Choose the right aperture

Most believe that shooting at the widest aperture is best, however that also means that a lesser amount of the photo will be in focus. This comes in handy when you are wanting to separate the subject from the background, but if the subjects are far apart from each other, front to back, you might be throwing an important piece of the image out of focus . 

A rule of thumb says to set your aperture to 2-3 stops higher than the smallest possible aperture of the particular lens. That means if you are shooting with the Canon 300 f/4L IS lens, you'd want to shoot at f/8 to get the sharpest images. 

football-american.jpg

Canon 1DMKII  |  420mm  |  f/4  |  1/1250s

3. set the iso according to your shutter speed and aperture

Most say that you should choose the lowest ISO possible. While this is true in many cases, cameras these days are highly capable of shooting at higher ISOs and maintaining detail without getting noisy.

When shooting with telephoto and super telephoto lenses, ISO should be one of the last settings you play with. After you determine your shutter speed and ideal aperture, you can then adjust the ISO to allow you to shoot fast and stay in focus.  Setting your ISO based off of your shutter speed and aperture will allow you to correctly expose your image.

4. Use a monopod or tripod

Choosing the right telephoto lens for wildlife photography

This one should be a no brainer. While super-telephoto lenses are being made lighter these days, they are still heavy... especially after carrying them for several hours. 

And what happens when you carry something heavy? You tend to get shaky. Introducing natural camera shake into your images will ruin the steps you've taken above to secure a sharp image. 

Note: All super telephoto lenses will come with a tripod collar mount. You should be sure to mount the lens to the tripod, not the camera. If you attach the camera to the tripod with no support for the lens, you risk damaging camera and lens. 

5. Choose A good tripod head

When you need to pan your camera with wildlife or an athlete, you'll want a tripod head that give you all of the flexibility you need, while still keeping your camera stable. For that reason, we love using gimbal heads. You'll be like Luke and Han in the Millennium Falcon!

supertele-2.jpg

6. Use ImagE Stabilization On Lenses

Image Stabilization (known at IS on Canon lenses, VR on Nikon lenses, OSS on Sony lenses, OS and Sigma lenses and VC on Tamron lenses) reduces shake caused while panning or tilting the camera. It is most helpful when shooting handheld. 

Note: If shooting on a tripod, turn off Image Stabilization. When turned on, it creates a very minor shake itself which in turn can spread to the tripod or monopod. 


When using a super telephoto lens, sometimes times the biggest question you'll have is "which one should I use?" If this is you, be sure to check out our two blog posts cover Which Lens To Use When Photographing Wildlife as well as Which Lens To Use When Photographing Sports.

Have you shot with a super telephoto lens before and have a tip we should add? Let us know in the comments below!

Topics: Lenses Photography Tips


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