For whatever reason, humans didn’t evolve with telephoto vision, For this exact reason, images shot with with a telephoto lens can have strong visual impact because we’re simply not used to seeing that way. However, by learning how see like a tele, we can begin to anticipate the distinct qualities and effects that long lenses are capable of imparting on our photography and fine tune our compositional eye towards making effective telephoto images.
Narrow View: Much like a telescope, a telephoto lens sees with a very narrow angle of view that is considerably smaller than that of the human eye. The visual effect of this is that subject matter is magnified in the viewfinder and brought in close. By using a telephoto lens, distant subjects can be made to fill the frame, which is extremely useful when shooting sports and wildlife, or in situations when it is not possible to move closer to your subject.
Compressed perspective: In addition to bringing the world up close, telephoto lenses also alter the perspective of your scene by compressing and altering the apparent distance and size relationships between different objects in your frame. This effect is what makes backgrounds loom larger than life behind the subject and what gives classic telephoto shots that flattened two-dimensional look.
Shallow depth of field: When using longer lenses, it’s nearly impossible to show everything in the frame in sharp focus, especially when you’re dealing with subjects at different distances, unless you’re shooting at infinity. By the nature of their construction, teles inherently have very shallow depth of field capabilities. You can use this to your advantage by accentuating the focus on your subjects so that they stand out against the background.
That classic look: So what is that classic look anyway? When we think of powerful telephoto images, the type of shots that come to mind are usually very simple and composed of striking graphic elements that either fill the frame or take up a predominant portion of the frame. The main subject is usually stands tack sharp in front of a softer focus background. This makes the subject pop, and allows it to sit comfortably in an environment that lends a sense of place, but doesn’t distract in any way from the main elements of the image.
The more you use your longer lenses, the more you’ll start getting a feel for how they’ll portray your subjects, even before you attach them to your camera.