“Art is long and life is short” – Hippocrates

There’s a saying in photography that goes: “the best zoom lens your feet,” meaning that you should try to get physically as close to your subject as you can. That’s certainly true but there are times when you can’t get as close as you want. That’s where a telephoto lens comes in.

There are 2 main situations where a telephoto lens comes in handy: sports and wildlife photography.

In the early 1900s photographers would actually position themselves on the field during professional baseball games to get their shots. Needless to say there were probably quite a few near misses, if not outright injuries.

Today, modern telephoto lenses keep photographers safely on the sidelines or even the stands. Most sports, football, baseball, soccer, etc., take a telephoto in the range of 300-600mm.

You’ve probably seen photographers on the sidelines with the lenses that look like mini-howitzers. They’re known as “fast” lenses because of their superior light gathering abilities. These expensive and heavy lenses are necessary for night or indoor sports where light is minimal. If you photograph sports that are shot outdoors in the daylight, a cheaper, lighter lenses of similar focal lengths will do.

Telephoto lenses are also essential for capturing animals in the wild. Like sports, they can help keep a photographer safe.

My daughter recently graduated from U.C. San Diego and she can recount several local news reports of tourists being attacked by sea lions on the beach. The attacks came when the people got too close to the animals to get their pictures.

People tend to forget that wild animals are just that: wild. If you disturb them they can see it as an attack and they could attack you. It’s always wise to exercise caution. Using a long lens will help you to keep your distance and you out of harms way.

In addition to staying safe, you also don’t want to disturb the animals. You want to get the wild animals displaying their natural behaviors and not to be reacting to your presence. A long telephoto can help to keep you far enough away to keep from agitating them.

There are other reasons to get a long lens but if you want to photograph situations that may be hazardous, a telephoto lens can allow you to do it in relative safety.

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