Written by Marjorie Dawson

Cat Photos With A Telephoto Lens – Beginners Tips

Cat Photos With A Telephoto Lens – Beginners Tips

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Do you want to get close to your cat for a gracious portrait or a cute snap but they get antsy or grumpy and move away? Do you want to take spectacular cat shots with lovely background soft focus that will make your friends go WOW?

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Let me introduce you to the world of the telephoto lens for beginners in a post packed with advice including questions to ask when choosing your lens and, some fun projects I know you will enjoy.

The telephoto lens has opened my eyes to the fun you can have as a cat photographer when look at expanding your lens collection, Yes, this means including something adventurous like a telephoto lens, even if you are doing it, like me, on a budget.

*Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase using one of these links, we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Choosing Your Next Camera Lens

Your aim as a budget conscious photographer, and maybe blogger or social media fan, is to purchase lenses that you will get lots of use from. Unlike professionals who carry big bags with dozens of lenses, if you are like me, your goal is portability and ease of use. You want to move around in an organised uncluttered way wherever you take photographs.

Your camera lens ambitions might be slightly different to mine but the questions you ask should be the same.

  • What kind of photos do you love to take?
  • Do you prefer cat close-ups with sharp whiskers?
  • Do you need to take photos from further away due to your cat’s ‘Greta Garbo’ attitude?
  • Will you mostly shoot at home or include adventurecat trips outside?
  • What lens(es) do you already have?

If you are not sure what you need, find a specialist camera shop (or telephone one for advice). These people spend their lives with cameras have lots of experience and can guide you in the right direction. Before you speak to anyone be ready with three things:

  1. Your camera (and manual if you have it). You will be asked for your camera brand e.g. Canon, Nikon, Sony etc.,.
  2. An idea of the telephoto (or other) lens you would like that they can advise you on and,
  3. a budget so that you don’t spend more than you need to as a new cat photographer.
A playful cat taken with a telephoto lens. Canon Camera
ISO 200 250 mm F5.6 1/125 © DashKitten

To make sure I chose the right lens, I visited my local camera shop, Wellington Photographic Supplies here in New Zealand. I told them about the lenses I already had and asked what they would suggest as my next camera lens.

What is a Telephoto Lens?

A telephoto lens is a lens that seems to magnify distant subjects you are photographing. To do that, the lens needs to have a focal length much longer than your 18-55 mm kit lens. The lens has a complex arrangement of glass lenses inside it which means the lens is heavier than you may be used to but this allows it to do a lot more as you see in the projects below. My lens has a range of 55 – 250 mm and I read this snippet from Borrow Lenses with interest.

70mm is short enough to let you shoot not too terribly far from your subject while 200mm gives you enough reach to shoot things that are a good distance away and lets you shoot things that are quickly moving between being relatively close and relatively far (like kids and animals) with ease.

BorrowLenses

The Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM. It is modestly priced but still up for a lot of fun projects. [For Nikon a similar lens is the AF-S DX Nkr 18-200mm F/3.5-5.6G ED VR II.]

My Lens is the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM. For Nikon a similar lens is the AF-S DX Nkr 18-200mm F/3.5-5.6G ED VR II.

The Price of a Telephoto Lens

I ask you to set a budget for a reason. The price range for telephoto lenses is massive. Costs range from approx. $300 to $9,000++ You do not need a high end lens as a beginner. My Canon lens is giving me so much value for money that I will be happy with my cat photos for a long time. You can exploring wildlife photography and fancy lenses later!

You can use a tripod with a telephoto lens if you are going to hold your camera it for a long time e.g. cat or kitten portraits. Also turn off image stabilisation if your lens has this.

Holding Your Heavier Lens

The standard way to hold a DSLR lens is with one hand on camera and the other supporting the lens. Tuck your elbows against your rib for support and feel for a comfortable spot to support your lens. My lens is not too big so I can support a lot of its weight, although not for long.

If you aim to take a lot of photographs in one place, I recommend a tripod. A small one will rest on the floor if you are sat down there coaxing your cat into position and save your arms.

How to hold your DSLR camera

Shooting Cats with Your Telephoto Lens

I am having a lot of fun learning what this telephoto lens for ‘beginners’ can do, and wanted to suggest some projects you can try if you haven’t made the most of your own telephoto lens yet.

I would say that the weight of the lens takes a bit of getting used to and holding your camera and lens correctly is a big help. Arms close to ribs, you should be supporting your camera as you look through the viewfinder at your cats.

Taking a photo with a shallow depth of field

Changing your depth of field, using your F-stop (check your manual) can give great results. Check out this image of Toulouse. The shallow depth of field helped me create spectacular soft focus bokeh. If you try this your cat will stand out clearly from the background. The F-stop was set at F5.6 on my telephoto lens and I was stood a room’s length way. The leaves through the window look beautiful.

TIP: Shallow depth of field will ensure that a busy background will be softened. this is great for an indoor portrait when you forget to tidy up.

Cat Gazing out of a window. Soft focus background using a zoom lens.
ISO 200 178 mm F 5.6 1/40 © DashKitten

Shallow depth of field is achieved by shooting photographs with a low f-number, or f-stop — from 1.4 to about 5.6 — to let in more light. This puts your plane of focus between a few inches and a few feet. 

Adobe

Zoom In From Far Away!

These shots shows how effective your photo can be if you find yourself stood far away from a photo opportunity.

For the first photograph, I spotted a dog playing in the surf further down the beach where my family was enjoying New Zealand’s warm January summer weather. Using sport (burst) mode I managed to get the stick in shot at the same time. I felt so lucky with this shot! The photograph has been lightened in Affinity Photo then cropped to remove empty beach and focus on the action.

Telephoto Lens for Beginners shows an active dog racing into the sea.
ISO 200 250 mm F8 1/1600 © DashKitten

Using a burst of shots means you stand a better change of capturing a fun action moment like a cat leaping, licking its paw or a yawn. You will need to be patient, and watch for your opportunity but it’s worth the wait.

The second photograph is of Silver Kitten and was taken quite a distance away from the other side of the garden. I was kneeling kneeling about ground level and fired off several bursts of shots hoping for a good picture. The telephoto lens helped me isolate Silver from the cats around him and focus closely on his face as he enjoyed a cat treat.

This photograph uses slight dodging to bring out Silver’s face and his golden eyes.

A telephoto shot of a cat after eating a snack. Telephoto Lens for Beginners story.
ISO 200 250mm F8 1/125

A RAW Tip for Burst Mode

If you use or are exploring RAW mode, turn it off when you shoot in burst/sport mode. Most entry-level cameras cannot process the data fast enough and your camera will struggle to take pictures.

Use Your Telephoto Lens for Macro Shots

You mean my big lens can take close up macro shots as well? Yes, it can, and the results can be so satisfying,

Take a close look at this ‘macro’ type shot of Toulouse. I tried to zoom in as close as I could and remain sharp. The centre of the eye is clear enough that you can see the reflection of a white building and maybe even the outline of me taking the photo.

Telephoto Lens for Beginners story using an example of a zooming shot of a cat's eye.
ISO 200 250 mm F5.6 1/125

Use an out of focus ‘foreground’ to frame your cat

This can be a bit tricky as your focus might jump to the foliage or other ‘frame’ you are using to your cat and back again – this is startling when it happens but try your best to focus on your cat. The photograph below shows Toulouse framed by ground level foliage that surrounds his face. I didn’t get a perfect shot because one eye is hidden behind a blurry twig but, I think you will get the idea.

ISO 200 250mm F 5.6 1.50 © Dash Kitten

I hope that you will be encouraged to experiment yourselves with a telephoto lens. They bring a shy cat closer to your camera or let you take amazing action shots or stunning close-ups. I am discovering that the more I use this lens, the more I learn and you will too. My best tip would be to keep exploring and keep taking photos, the more you take pictures the better you get. Using your camera is simply the best way to learn.

Have you tried a new lens, one that surprised you? Let me know in the comments.

Photo Resources

  • A full explanation of telephoto lenses – Wikipedia
  • Tips when using Continuous Shooting (Burst) Mode – The Lens Lounge
  • What is focal length? “Focal length, usually represented in millimeters (mm), is the basic description of a photographic lens. It is not a measurement of the actual length of a lens, but a calculation of an optical distance from the point where light rays converge to form a sharp image of an object to the digital sensor or 35mm film at the focal plane in the camera.” Nikon
  • Specialist Telephoto Lens summary by Expert Photography.

Marjorie Dawson

Marjorie is a motorbike riding blogger and award winning cat photographer who believes that everyone can shoot and edit wonderful pictures they love regardless of the camera they use.

She is a Professional member of the Cat Writers Association, Kuykendall Image Award winner and published photographer at the Guardian newspaper.

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11 thoughts on “Cat Photos With A Telephoto Lens – Beginners Tips”

  1. I love these photos! A telephoto lens is a wonderful lens to have, especially for pet photography.

    When I was photographing weddings (an 8 hour day or more), I used a monopod to help me hold the camera steady. It made a huge difference. The only downside to it is if your subject is on the ground. In that case, just lay down.

    Reply
  2. This is great information! I have been doing photography as a hobby for a while now, but I’ve never invested in a telephoto lens before. That being said, I totally can see how it would be helpful when reading through this. I share my house with 2 torties and when that tortitude kicks in, it would be nice to take some pictures from a distance! lol

    Reply
  3. Great photos and descriptions of using a telephoto lens. I haven’t used one with my current camera with my cats but I did use one when I was a teacher who led the yearbook staff. I need to pull out my lens and give it a try.

    Reply
  4. I don’t think I’m quite ready for a telephoto lens … I haven’t gotten my 50mm yet (though it’s on its way!). Incredible photography – as always!

    Reply
  5. My dad had a Canon SLR, and he did wonders with his telephoto lens…but it wasn’t a digital camera…and brother has it now…hah!
    Hubby has a digital DSLR, but it isn’t his so he cannot let me use it…its for his work and belongs to the city. So I am (stuck) using my P&S Canon SX40, which has a zoom lens on it, sort of like a baby telephoto lens.

    Ah, well, it does a pretty good job none the less!
    I wish I had more time to take and learn the techniques of good close ups. And more!

    My comments were not going through in some of your previous posts, so I hope this will…I tried on multiple browsers…sigh…

    Reply
  6. WoW! The things you can do! I don’t have that kind of lens, so I guess I shall have to keep using photoshop! Have a marvellously Happy Day!

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  7. That shot of Toulouse is especially wonderful, Marjorie! My telephoto lens is so helpful when photographing shy cats at the shelter. 🙂

    Reply
  8. I’ve had a telephoto lens for a while now but I haven’t got round to making the most of it yet so this is great advice – thanks!

    Reply

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