Why You Should Shoot Portraits With a Telephoto Lens

09/15/2015 01:02 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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There's so much to consider when it comes to capturing your subjects: the lighting, the expression, the story. Before you even get started, you might be wondering what lens to use.

When it comes to choosing the right lens, it depends on what you're looking to achieve. Capturing a subject with a wide angle lens allows you to tell a broader story because that wider angle means you'll include more of the background in the picture. If you're looking to showcase a person in their element and how they interact with their surroundings, this kind of lens is ideal.

The downfall of wide angle lenses, however, occurs when you use it to shoot up-close portraits of someone's face, or head shots. When you use a wide angle lens, keep in mind it's called wide angle for a reason: it literally distorts the features of someone's face to make them look wider. Now, I don't know very many people who want to look wider on camera and I am sure you don't either.

If you're looking to get more accurate and flattering facial proportions then you should consider shooting with a telephoto lens. I use the Sigma 70 to 200 f/2.8, which is a slightly more cost efficient model than other popular brands out there like Canon. All in all, it should save you around $1,000.

There are a few key reasons why shooting portraits with a telephoto lens creates better results, and that's not just because it gives a more accurate depiction of the face.

The 2.8 aperture creates a greater depth of field, which blurs out the background. This literally makes the subject the focus of the photo versus kit lenses with smaller aperture settings that keep a lot more of the background in focus than not. The larger aperture of a telephoto lens also allows more light to come through, which is beneficial in natural, low light scenarios.

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Also, being able to zoom in provides a much more comfortable working distance when you are shooting portraits of someone. That said, your opinion on spatial distance depends on what kind of photographer you want to be. Some photographers really enjoy working up close with their subjects while others prefer some extra space.

Keep in mind, if you are in a travel photography scenario and you want to be more stealth, you can use the telephoto to capture a moment from farther away without interrupting what is going on. It can be harder to get away with this with a shorter focal length lens because you'll actually have to get closer. This is also assuming that you want to get a nice close up of the person versus just shooting a wide shot of them that includes their surroundings, which would be another approach to storytelling.

This is your invitation to experiment and play around with the types of lenses to see what works for you, but if you are looking to capture spot-on portraits every time try the telephoto lens.

Photographer Megan Snedden uses photography to capture people's brilliance and tell stories. Follow her on Instagram @megansnedden