Project 11: Standing back


Select a telephoto lens, if you happen to have a more pronounced telephoto of 300mm or 400mm then it may be more interesting to use that, (I did and it was), and make some images of people unaware. When reviewing the project, note any practical difficulties and any special opportunities created by the long focal length and distant position.

P11-A: 400mm, ISO 400, 1/250@f5.6

This image of this crossword solving wine drinking man was made from an elevated vantage point.  This made the shot very simple with no obstacles between myself and the subject.  He was completely unaware he was being photographed and remained immersed in his crossword.

P11-B: 235mm, ISO 400, 1/1000@f5.6

Using the long lens, I was able to scan around looking for interesting moments.  These three women were clearly amused by something on these cards and I was easily able to capture there smiles whilst they were completely unaware of me.  The (relatively) in focus background indicates that I was some distance from them and so the long focal length didn’t throw the background completely out of focus – a very useful technique and advantage of long lenses.

P11-C: 400mm, ISO 400, 1/250@f6.3

This image reminds me of the ‘Where’s Wally’ books.  I used a high vantage point and long lens to compress the crowd so that everyone appears to be very closely packed together. I waited until someone was moving towards me, against the flow of the crowd and as a result, my eye is always drawn straight to hime when I look at this image. A secondary figure, who I confess I did not notice at the time, is the small girl at the bottom left whose lost or worried look grabs my attention.

P11-D, 360mm, ISO 1000, 1/500@f5.6

This is my favourite image from this session.  I always feel that a very long lens makes you very conspicuous  and causes people to raise their guard.  I had seen this woman walking around and was lucky that she sat down to read.  Although I was relatively close to her when I made these images she was concentrating so hard that she did not notice me as I took four or five shots.  It was only when I got home that I saw what she was reading and so perhaps there is some back story on her intent focus upon this passport information.  I like the way that this shot is clearly ‘unaware’.

My overall impression of using a long telephoto for ‘unaware’ work can be summarised in a list of pros and cons.


  • You can isolate subjects from visual ‘noise’
  • If relatively close to the subject, limited depth of field can throw the background out of focus
  • The subject is usually unaware of your presence
  • It’s possible to zoom in for, say, just head shots
  • If you’re tall, (which I am), it’s easy to shoot from within a crowd without people blocking your line of sight
  • The compression effect offers creative options.


  • The lenses make you conspicuous to those around you
  • The lenses are heavy, not very fast and require higher shutter speeds (and therefore ISOs) to avoid camera shake
  • There is limited depth of field
  • The image will look like it has been taken with a long lens which may not be the desired effect
  • You need to maintain an appropriate subject distance – if the subject comes too close a long lens may not be helpful.

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