Close-ups are more popular than ever, thanks to TV and movies. I’m a totally happy photographer behind a medium length 85 or 100MM length lens, because I can avoid postproduction time to crop, the consequent reduction in image quality and at the same time take advantage of fast, light equipment.
Everybody likes the way they look when portraited with one of these quick, handy lenses. And this culinary student tasting wines is a great example. By stepping back just a bit from your subject and using a medium tele you can achieve a more pleasing relationship of objects and sizes than you can with the old standby normal lens at much closer range. Try an experiment to prove this fact for yourself.
Here’s what moderate telephoto lenses are good for:
- beautifully proportioned classic portraiture
- superior isolation of a person or object that is not too far away
- allows you to politely stay back a bit, rather than invading a speaker’s comfort zone during a presentation
- easy bokeh at lower ‘/stop range
- picks people out of a crowd
- great for a characteristically tight, cinematic look
- fast, light in weight
- favorite of inconspicuous photojournalists
And the cons:
- in a crowd you may not be able to back up far enough to get several persons in the frame
- unless you select a heavier, macro-capable lens, you can’t get close enough to small objects
- longer lenses are incrementally more difficult and mistake ridden to focus on the fly
- often not really long enough for some pr applications and contemporary close-up portraiture
- lowest ‘/stop lenses in this category get heavy and pricey
People’s comfort zone is a big reason to use medium teles. You are close enough to your subject to preserve a relationship and give direction, but far enough away to avoid intruding on personal space. Incidentally, second to a photographer’s storytelling ability, the next most important quality is great personality – not your equipment or technical considerations. No platform speaker wants you right in front of him; it’s too intrusive and disruptive. Step back, remove yourself from the limelight. You’ll often be rewarded with more natural and spontaneous expressions.
Expressions were intense as a student sommelier samples a vintage. With a 100MM lens I’m just far enough away not to distract her, and still capture her intensity.
Here’s a tip:
When selecting a medium tele you want a fast lens, but not too fast! For instance Canon offers two 85mm lenses, an ‘/1.8 and an ‘/1.2. The faster lens is superior performance glass, but is it the right choice for you? The approx. 2/3 ‘/stop slower lens costs only 20% of the faster one. And it actually focusses quicker! Why? Because the motor has only half the weight to move. Before you buy, try out both, side by side, comparing time to focus near then far. Decide based on the kind of work you do!