How To Get Razor Sharp Images With A Telephoto Lens By Using The Right Camera Settings

TelephotoLens

[WARNING] If You Don’t Change Your DSLR Settings To Compensate For Your Lens Focal Length The Images Will Be Blurry And Unusable!

It’s Frustrating To Lug A Huge Telephoto Lens Around To Try To Get Long Distance Shots Only To Have Them Completely Soft And Out Of Focus. Most Photographers Don’t Know How To Compensate In Camera For A Huge Lens Like A 600MM. Many are even getting it wrong at focal lengths of 200 and lower.

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Image Source: Ronnie Macdonald

258 comments

An only the Girlie’s photo was spot-on!
But seriously, it is not the camera that make great photos . . . it is the person behind the camera.
In general, man produce technically near perfect exposure BUT
Ladies create more pleasing composition.

I used to contribute to LIFE magazine, yet, my wife and daughter creates more pleasing photos than I do.

4 guys all taking the same shot, good example of doing it wrong. Bet if there wasa large view of this field, there would be some oddball photographer shooting from a different angle somewhere. He will be the one getting printed everywhere because his shot will stand out.

People, this is soccer…(OK, Football…but NOTHING HAPPENS..I have Been to a lot of matches and in school was forced to Play in them, nice and cheap, that sport, good) Nothing!, until they get near the Goal..then Point…Then Shoot! Jeez!

SHE got the memo alright . . . but she knows better!
I was there, some 25 meters behind these shutter pushers.
My drone made possible shots from several angles.

For some games, companies like sports illustrated have multiple photographers covering the match. The photogs are sectioned off to certain parts of the field to cover so no action is missed. It’s more of a team effort to catch the every part of the match. Not 1 photographer can capture all parts of the field.

The 1/focal length rule is for handheld. The video briefly mentioned that, but the image shows monopods and the video shows a tripod. They also never mention image stabilization (or vibration reduction). Then there is correct posture when taking a shot. If you shot using the LCD live view with arms extended, do not expect this rule to produce sharp images.

Ray Knight, shooting soccer, which these shooters are clearly doing, usually means you are not allowed to move up and down sidelines or switch sides of the field during play and there are assigned areas where photographers can shoot.

Correct. I shoot Sporting KC for The KC Star. We are not allowed to move once we take a spot. We are not allowed to stand. We have one height and one location for all of our images per half of the game. You can only get up and move with an escort and they usually are busy during the game. You can only move freely during the half or before/after the game.

True. I shoot drag racing most often, or used to at least. Only so many spots, so many angles. I go printed more often then my fellow shooters because when they were standing, I was laying down, When they were kneeling in front, I was shooting from the rear. Always doing the opposite of what the majority was doing. Even with those 4 guys lined up like that, all one of them has to do is tilt their camera to get a completely different shot then the other 3. I credited Ian Rae for bringing that to racing.
Good true funny story about this. IHRA Nationals one year, broke my camera day before. I stood on the line with guys equipped like those in the photo, but only with an SiS2 point and shoot. Everyone got to chuckle at me, but in the ned, more of my shots ended up in magazines. Quality wasnt as great of course, but the subject was different then the other 20 shooters.
I am only trying to encourage people to look at things differently then the norm. Also, placing sponsors ad banners in your backgrounds when lining stuff up also helps a ton. Backgrounds are very important that way.

When taking photos at a professional sporting event, you are usually restricted where you can and can’t go with your equipment. Hence why photographers get grouped together like this. The other angle you speak of? Yeah, I bet there’s just as many photogs in that allowed spot as well.

Not being a sports fan, I enjoy getting a spot in the pit with the seasoned shooters who are passionate about the game. Their banter and comments help with the cutlines I need to write later and keep my from getting bored and distracted. Their excitement is contagious and by half-time I don’t ever want the game to end. If I have to cover a game and I’m off by myself I miss moments due to lack of concentration or worse yet I run the risk of getting hit by the ball or trampled by the team!

Probably a good idea to mention Image Stabilization modes. On a tripod with the newer series of Canon Lenses, there are 3 IS settings.
Mode one is generally for stationary subjects, or slow moving. The stabilization is working on both the horizontal and vertical axis.

Mode 2 is for panning action. It compensates movement (i,e. shake) on the vertical axis, but allows the camera to move freely on the horizontal plane, without trying to compensate for it, resulting in decreased IQ. (image quality)

Mode three is for action as well, but doesn’t apply the IS until the moment you squeeze the shutter. Allowing you to frame up the shot without interference from the IS.

I have used the mode three with the EOS 5D3, 400mm IS ver.2, with manual focus handheld to capture a shot of an incredibly impatient mountain warbler flitting backing and forth in a length of heavy brush. The branches of the brush drove the auto fucus crazy, there was way too much moving around and height adjustment for a tri or monopod. After about 5 minutes, I finally got him. Not something one might pull off with the 600mm.

Although it was a Canon, it did a heck of a job! 😉

And just what are they doing wrong? And you can be guaranteed that all their shots will be different……why……because they are not firing at the same millisecond of time….duh. There will be little nuances that will make them different, that an editor will choose for that reason. Just luck, and no way degrades another photographers shot.

Well, hopefully it’s good timing and not luck. The people who just hold down the shutter and let the motor drive do their work often miss the peak action because they don’t have timing.

I find this article rather hollow. Anyone can see fairly quickly, that they need a faster shutter speed to freeze most sports action, not simply just be in focus. And at a distance, your focal point can be a bit forgiving, and still render a decent shot. Way too much elitism going on here when it’s not that complicated.

Generally, you don’t have much option at professional events.

There is also a lot of action, and generally those 4 guys would be tracking different subjects, simply because they are contracted to get a feature shot of a certain player, versus general action shot.

Then, you have the thing, were perspective can make all the difference, just 2 feet away could easily result in to much space between players to be usable, versus more interaction perspective, which is key in Sports Photography. Same concept can be seen in why they are not standing, and their lens is as low as possible (not they can all lean the front end down, in case they need to, they also have their 70-200 handy, when needed.

We don’t. I was originally merely trying to offer a tip to everyone to think outside the box. I have been printed a lot despite having poor equipment and less skill then others. I was just different then the rest. That is all I was trying to say.

Obviously you failed to read the entire article Miklos. If you watch the video or read the article in it’s entirety you would see it does in fact talk about tripods and vibration compensation which you failed to mention.

I’m a nikon guy but you wouldn’t recommend a 400 2.8? Even if they are canon…really? cuz….I’m curious. What would you recommend? a 600 f4 is better? I have shot everything from high school to the Detroit Lions and use glass from a 500 f4 to a 12mm. Please, enlighten me on what makes good glass for pro shots outside of the 400 2.8. I CAN’T FRIGGIN WAIT to hear what you have to say.

This is one of the dumbest articles I have ever read…. Unless you are trying to market to the 70-300 crowd… Then? Ok… But how about we don’t show a 400 2.8 as an example.

Everyone has an opinion………just do what works for you……maybe less time making comments here and more out there shooting and you might just learn to get it right on your own……!!!!!

Still, that’s one of the most basic things you learn when you first start shooting manual. You could do without the article/video by running an headline that says “Get rid of unwanted blur by using fast shutter speeds.”

that’s alright..I missed a great shot in a pinch..I had to change to the telephoto in my arsenal quickly and my f-stop wasn’t set correctly for the body and lost that little bit of time and killed the shot.. (“sometimes..there aren’t enough rocks” Forest Gump ) ,

Yep…breaks down in rain.

I shot a Pitt State football game circa 2006 in pouring rain. I had the company’s EOS 1d Mark II with a 70-200 2.8 L and my personal Nikon D2h on a 400 2.8 shooting the game. Both cameras were drenched despite rain covers. The Canon completely quit working and had to go to CPS for repairs due to water damage. The Nikon was still working. My opinion is based on experience, the fact I can choose to mount a 1960s Nikkor lens, that I find Nikon easier to use, faster for shooting photojournalism. That D2h is still functional and in great shape. It’s one of my backup bodies these days. And from the D3 and on, Nikon has outclassed lowlight sensitivity on its bodies, which is one of the most valuable features on a camera for an available light photojournalist. Other photo profession requirements may vary.

This advice is good for a lot of photography requirements – its the basics after all.
It is absolutely useless information to anyone shooting with a super telephoto at a propeller driven airplane that is flying by at 200 to 400 mph. Try a 500mm + 1.4 + 1.3 crop body for an effective focal length of over 900mm – hand held – at less than 1/125 and try to get a tack sharp image. Tripods are too heavy and cumbersome, monopods add unnecessary weight when panning on a loop. ISO doesn’t help because flash isn’t used. If you don’t have a full prop disc and be able to read the fine print on the tail – you don’t have an image you can sell for much.
Welcome to the real world of aviation photography!

I love these threads, they always bring up the Nikon vs Canon topic from a bunch of people who coulndt get a sharp photo not matter what they use. Its not the camera, its the shooter.

I am a Nikon (full frame) owner and love it. I also have Telephoto lenses for my shooting. Both Canon and Nikon are great cameras. I have been and always will be a Nikon user, but that does not discount any other camera brands such as Canon. The history has been that Nikon was always he higher priced camera. Canon, and I can only surmise that it was the Marketing Dept, saying that if Nikon can get a premium dollar, so can we. So up come the prices for all Canon equipment . If you had been a Canon owner from wayyyyy back, you probably stuck with Canon. Just like the old Ford Chevy discussions…

Besides having the more superior camera, canon has one thing that you will not find at Nikon….. Canon has their factory service repair called Canon Professional Services or CPS for short…. Instead of sending your camera to some authorized location, you’re actually sending it directly to the Canon factory. In all instances I have always gotten my foot and back fully serviced, and back in 6 days or less. Try to top that Nikon.

Joseph C Spoto, Nikon repairs are not made at the factory,,,, But, some Authorized Locati lo n???? Does Nikon Send You “Loaner Equipment” to evaluate for free…. Just recently I evaluated 800mm lens for 2 weeks for free. If I rented that it would have costed me $600. Does Nikon do that?

I’ve collected several Canon 35mm, Minolta and Nikon camera’s, with telephoto lens. I have used them all. I love the picture quality but dslr is better. The cost of the film and to develop it is getting expensive. A quality printer and memory card works good.

stupid article i can get sharp pics on a cheap 650 /1300 lens choked at f8 if you dont know the settings take it off auto and play around geezzz !!!! i have had images using that lens published in international publications

Just think in the days of using film, the money spent learning how to be a photographer. Now it’s cost is just the equipment. At a football match 3 films. 108 frames usable ones ???? And now this might be the frames taken in the first half on one camera.

Well I never would have known that…YES I WOULD! Because I learnt in the pre digital/auto everythig age.did collage and ‘A’ levels in photography and C & G as well. Basic stuff before image stabiliser lenses were even dreamt of! Pah…Bloody expert

Typical Nikon snobs have a complex and need to bash Canon users. Trying to compensate for something? They are both great Cameras, and as any real sports photographer knows, your preference is developed through practice, familiarity, comfort, and the need on a shoot to know your camera without having to look at what you are doing. (Not to mention your investment in your glass). So. Shoot what you prefer Nikon users…especially at your real job…shooting weddings.:) .

This is written as if image stabilization has not been invented and highly refined over the last two decades. For instance, with a Canon Series II 500mm f/4, I’ve hand held a sharp image of the moon at 1/40-sec. and 1,000mm (2x TC attached). It requires good technique, but hand hold the current generation of super-telephoto lens at shutter speeds well under the focal length is now realistic.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t bump the ISO up and shoot birds in flight at 1/1000-sec. to 1/3200-second, when possible, but I have no qualm about hand holding the 500mm at 1/100-sec. to capture a big white-tail buck in the woods.

most people who shoot canon are shooting because of the name Nikon has the best focus glass and talk to a photographer who shoot canon about Nikon and they will have nothing but great things to say about it I own Nikons and love the products do great work

Cheaper? Two thoughts…you’re of course wrong..the most expensive lens are Canon L lenses (white ones above) and second, professional photographers who commonly use the canon telephoto lens (look at the photographers section at Wimbledon for example…about 85% are white lens) couldn’t care less about what’s cheap. Fred…never seen a white Nikon lens unless it was covered by a lens stick on, most of which are cammo for obvious reasons.

What do you mean by “dominant?” I recently read that Canon’s quarterly earnings were down significantly – sales have really slumped with their DSLRs and they’re exploring mirrorless development. Seriously, go get lost with your Nikon vs. Canon argument.

Cheaper? Two thoughts…you’re of course wrong..the most expensive lens are Canon L lenses (white ones above) and second, professional photographers who commonly use the canon telephoto lens (look at the photographers section at Wimbledon for example…about 85% are white lens) couldn’t care less about what’s cheap. Fred…never seen a white Nikon lens unless it was covered by a lens stick on, most of which are cammo for obvious reasons.

What do you mean by “dominant?” I recently read that Canon’s quarterly earnings were down significantly – sales have really slumped with their DSLRs and they’re exploring mirrorless development. Seriously, go get lost with your Nikon vs. Canon argument.

Fred Phipps the price difference is negligible in both brands top line cameras if youre going to pay that kind of money for high end equipment. Not all pros shoot combat pics, theres many genres out there to shoot not just combat.

So all the pro photographers that use Canon or other Cameras are not realy professionals???? What about those who shoot with Hasselblad or Leica etc etc etc, Are they not professionals???

Fred Phipps the price difference is negligible in both brands top line cameras if youre going to pay that kind of money for high end equipment. Not all pros shoot combat pics, theres many genres out there to shoot not just combat.

So all the pro photographers that use Canon or other Cameras are not realy professionals???? What about those who shoot with Hasselblad or Leica etc etc etc, Are they not professionals???

So three photo’s on Canon and one on a Nikon. For a bit More variety, (just once) I’d like to listen to a Professional Golf Association Tournament presented by a socker (football) announcer. Now THAT would be different.

Advice given is basic 101 photo class. If one uses big glass this should already be known. Most use Canon does not mean they are pros or even good; it just shows you how many hack photogs there are.

Advice given is basic 101 photo class. If one uses big glass this should already be known. Most use Canon does not mean they are pros or even good; it just shows you how many hack photogs there are.

Really, this is Photography 101. Professionals should already know this and amateurs usually shoot in auto mode anyway. The best thing to do is Invest in a basic photography book or just read the manual. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make.

Really, this is Photography 101. Professionals should already know this and amateurs usually shoot in auto mode anyway. The best thing to do is Invest in a basic photography book or just read the manual. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make.

Only reason sports shooters use Canon is that it has a bigger buffer so you can machine gun more shots to pull out the one you will use so instead of 10 or so on the Nikon in a burst over a second you can do 14 or so. Otherwise both about equal except on the Nikon you can use classic glass from pre 1980! (ESPECIALLY PRIMES)

It has a lot more to do with Canon was quicker to come out with pro grade digital cameras in the early 2000’s where Nikon was not, the playing field did not level off till about five years ago. Nikon shooters had little choice but to switch over to Canon during this period, most have stayed because it’s way too expensive to buy new glass and cameras. In the film days Nikon was used by 90% of the pro market.

Only reason sports shooters use Canon is that it has a bigger buffer so you can machine gun more shots to pull out the one you will use so instead of 10 or so on the Nikon in a burst over a second you can do 14 or so. Otherwise both about equal except on the Nikon you can use classic glass from pre 1980! (ESPECIALLY PRIMES)

It has a lot more to do with Canon was quicker to come out with pro grade digital cameras in the early 2000’s where Nikon was not, the playing field did not level off till about five years ago. Nikon shooters had little choice but to switch over to Canon during this period, most have stayed because it’s way too expensive to buy new glass and cameras. In the film days Nikon was used by 90% of the pro market.

All well and good if you are shooting a stationary target. Those pictured are probably shooting sports and none of the suggestions will help. Shutter speed should be equal to or shorter than focal length. You could have said that in one sentence. Most of it is common sense.

Here is a description from an article I found that might explain it better than I can. “The Reciprocal Rule–perhaps the most used “rule of thumb” in photography. It is used to determine the slowest shutter speed you can safely use while hand holding your camera and still prevent camera shake. It states that when hand holding your camera, the shutter speed should not be slower than the reciprocal of the effective focal length of the lens you are using. So, if you have a 55 mm lens, then the reciprocal of that would be 1/55, which means that the slowest shutter speed you should use would be 1/55 seconds.

Examples:
200mm lens: Shutter Speed (SS) > = 1/200 sec.
100mm lens: SS > = 1/100 sec.
70mm lens: SS > = 1/70 sec.” I hope this explains it better than I perhaps explained it. For your largest depth of field ( the area that is in sharpest focus) the smaller your opening f stop such as f22 will give you a depth of field hypothetical from 15 feet to infinity (this is an example and not to be used as actual depth of field). This will be a greater depth of field than you would get with f4. With that you might only have things in focus from 4 feet in front of your subject to 4 feet behind it. The trade off is that your shutter has to remain open longer to get in enough light for proper exposure. You will learn ways to get around this as you progress. Naturally for fast moving subjects such as sports this won’t work and a fast exposure (f4) is needed. With digital you have several variable to play with. You have shutter speed, you have aperture and then there is the ASA or sensitivity to light such as 100 ASA thourgh perhaps 1600 speed. The higher the number the more sensitive to light. With film, the entire roll of film had the same ASA rating and you were stuck with it. With digital you can change the ASA speed between shots to achieve your desired results. Proper exposure is achieved through manipulation of those variables. I hope this helped.

Here is a description from an article I found that might explain it better than I can. “The Reciprocal Rule–perhaps the most used “rule of thumb” in photography. It is used to determine the slowest shutter speed you can safely use while hand holding your camera and still prevent camera shake. It states that when hand holding your camera, the shutter speed should not be slower than the reciprocal of the effective focal length of the lens you are using. So, if you have a 55 mm lens, then the reciprocal of that would be 1/55, which means that the slowest shutter speed you should use would be 1/55 seconds.

Examples:
200mm lens: Shutter Speed (SS) > = 1/200 sec.
100mm lens: SS > = 1/100 sec.
70mm lens: SS > = 1/70 sec.” I hope this explains it better than I perhaps explained it. For your largest depth of field ( the area that is in sharpest focus) the smaller your opening f stop such as f22 will give you a depth of field hypothetical from 15 feet to infinity (this is an example and not to be used as actual depth of field). This will be a greater depth of field than you would get with f4. With that you might only have things in focus from 4 feet in front of your subject to 4 feet behind it. The trade off is that your shutter has to remain open longer to get in enough light for proper exposure. You will learn ways to get around this as you progress. Naturally for fast moving subjects such as sports this won’t work and a fast exposure (f4) is needed. With digital you have several variable to play with. You have shutter speed, you have aperture and then there is the ASA or sensitivity to light such as 100 ASA thourgh perhaps 1600 speed. The higher the number the more sensitive to light. With film, the entire roll of film had the same ASA rating and you were stuck with it. With digital you can change the ASA speed between shots to achieve your desired results. Proper exposure is achieved through manipulation of those variables. I hope this helped.

It’s a video and it took literally 2 clicks to get to it. Not sure where you went. Click on the link above, then click on “next page for video” and scroll down. Click on the video – my bad, that’s 3 clicks.

That advice doesn’t hold water if you are photographing a propeller driven aircraft with a 400mm lens and you want to get full prop blur with a sharp body. If you shoot at a shutter speed equal to or longer than your focal length, you won’t get the prop blur you need for a convincing shot.

If you’re going for crisp freeze motion shot sure this works but if you want blur to show motion then not so much. So many articles like this are based on the authors personal preference and don’t take other applications into consideration. There is not a single one way answer. There rarely is in artistic mediums.

For those really long lens, some photographers will rent the lens for a specific event. Nikon and Canon will all lend a lens to members of their Professional Photographers programs to cover certain events. For average people, go into debt and take out a loan.

Mike, there’s several places (like borrowlenses.com for example) that rent equipment (lenses, bodies, gear) and the prices are fairly reasonable.
Renting is a good way to evaluate a lens when making a decision to buy or just having a specific lens for an event.
In many cases, you can even purchase their used equipment, which is not a bad way to get into a lens and then use it as a trade-in on a new lens later on down the road.

Eddie Hagler, after over thirty years of photojournalism at couple major newspapers, I have found using Manual setting are ok in some situations. When you are shooting a football game outside on a day when the sun is going in and out of clouds, you are happy with auto settings. For folk who don’t shoot for a living, you can afford not to be correct. I am a pro, look it up.

Nick, when I was starting to shoot lot, read a article by Sports Illustrated photographer Neil Leifer, his advice, don’t stand with the crowd, you don’t want the same image. Try a different lens, you may gamble a little, you win some, great shot, and you lose some and can only say “dam”. No risk, no reward.

If you have a 600mm lens you already know your shit well enough. You don’t get to string for anyone at that level without already proving yourself. And at $400 for 4 day rental it’s Guaranteed that a soccer mom is not schlepping a 600mm around to get shots of little Johnny on the pitch.

While the shutter speed is dead on in respect to focal length I do know my Nikon d810 Iso at higher speeds work amazingly.. With my d3 I was able to shoot at slower shutter speeds without loss of sharpness but not as much w my d800

WOW Lester Gray you must be reading my mind. I have had my Canon 100-400 IS lens and haven’t been happy with it since I got it. Images mostly blurry & fuzzy unless it is BRIGHT light & subject stands pretty still. Hope this article helps me figure out the issue.

I see there are a variety of questions and answers. I mostly shoot wild horses with a 600 f:/4.0 with a 1.4 extender in poor light on a 1dx that gives me 840 mm at f:/5.6. I usually use 400-800 iso and around 100-200th of a second (not recommended) with the lens on a mono pod and gimble mount as i need to move fast. i get a variety of results but find if i shoot the same as a rifle with my breathing it produces the best results.Breath out and in slowly and as you expel all the air squeeze the shutter release slowly, you will produce good results. Setting your feet as two legs of a tripod and the monopod as the third will help stabilize the lens.Happy Shooting

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