Monday, April 11, 2011

Telephoto Fishing Part Deux

OK, so you've mastered how to isolate your subject with the telephoto lens and create a nice, creamy background which focuses attention right where you want it.

Now we can move on to the second installment in our multi-part series entitled:


Photographers have the ability to distort perspective within the frame. Making focal length choices is not arbitrary, but has a very important impact on how the end result is presented to the viewer.

The perceived distances between the foreground, subject, and background are elements that can and should be consciously controlled.

Compression is the term for making distances appear shorter than they are in real life. Women have been doing this for eons even before photography was invented, but for our purposes we will discuss only the relative distances within an image. Long focal lengths are the visual equivalent of a trash compactor - effectively squeezing foreground, subject, and background elements together.

The sage brush behind well-known whitefish guide Casey Birkholz (below) was about 35 feet to the rear. Using a pontoon boat I created some distance and shot at 200mm, compressing the photo and making the background appear much closer.


Even though almost half the frame in this shot is background, I did not want the viewer's eye to be drawn deeper into the image and beyond the subject. Use of compression made the distances appear artificially short, resulting in a more controlled portrait.

Perspective is a vital arrow in the quiver. Zoom lenses allow for a certain amount of laziness, because the photographer can stay in one place while zooming in or out to fill the frame. Doing so is a beginner's mistake! Distances and focal lengths CHANGE the resulting image dramatically. Make your focal length and compositional choices first, then move your body to accommodate the vision.

Ask not what your zoom can do for you, but what you can do with your zoom.


  1. Brett ... Great lessons from behind the lens. Jim

  2. Both segmants are super informative..Thanks! Your images are so clean and crisp. Mine, not so much but i'm working on it.

  3. i wanna be like brent! damn you are good

  4. Jim and David - I appreciate the comments and very much hope a few things I have learned along the way might be helpful to others. In the beginning I took equipment into the field based on convenience. Over time I have realized that was the wrong approach, and have started taking the right tool to accomplish the day's goals. I find I'm more successful chasing a desired outcome than trying to decide in the moment what to shoot.

    Mike - looks aren't everything my friend! Thanks for the props - I really enjoyed your Over the Hills post recently. Very nice work.

  5. Nice work brother. Great shot of "Hollywood".

  6. Jay: Thanks man - nice fish and good times. We need to rodeo.