When you think of a professional photographer hard at work, you probably don't imagine someone shooting with a wide-angle lens. More likely, you imagine a photographer with a long telephoto lens mounted on the end of a 35mm camera. There's a reason that telephoto lenses have become synonymous with photography: A long lens has powerful magnification and can isolate a distant subject as if you were standing right next to it. Many digital cameras--even ones that don't have removable, interchangeable lenses--can capture photos like that. Let's see how.
Get the Most Out of Your Zoom
Obviously, the best place to start is with whatever telephoto capabilities your digital camera has built in. While cameras vary, most point-and-shoots have a zoom range that varies from slight wide angle to slight telephoto--such as 35mm to 105mm. If you look, you can find models that offer a maximum focal length of 200mm, which is considered a moderate telephoto zoom.
When you zoom all the way in, to 200mm or so, remember that camera shake becomes a serious consideration. Any unsteadiness on your part gets magnified along with the subject, and that can result in a blurry image.
To combat camera shake when shooting at longer focal lengths, use the fastest shutter speed your camera can muster. If your camera has a shutter priority mode, switch to that and dial in a fast shutter speed. What is a good speed? Try inverting the focal length, so if you're shooting with your camera's lens zoomed all the way to about 200mm, set the shutter speed to 1/200 second or faster. If you don't have a shutter priority setting, then set your camera to its action mode, which should automatically use the fastest available speed.
If you still have trouble getting a clear picture, you might try increasing the camera's ISO setting. A higher ISO makes the camera more sensitive to light, so it should be able to use a faster shutter speed (at the expense of adding a little "digital noise" to the photo). Add a Telephoto Lens
What if you want more "reach" than your digital camera can provide? Then it might be time to see if there are telephoto lens adapters available for your model. Even if the lens is built in, you might be able to clip, snap, or screw a telephoto adapter onto the front of the camera.
Be sure to visit your camera's Web site for information on accessory lenses. These days, just about every major camera manufacturer offers add-on telephoto lenses for at least some of the cameras in their lineup. I've seen such lenses from Canon, Fujifilm, Kodak, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, and Sony. And if you don't find anything from your camera maker, be sure to check out lenses from companies like Kenko and Tiffen, for instance, I found adapter lenses for some common point-and-shoot cameras for under US$100.
Get the Telephoto Effect on the Desktop
Finally, don't forget that you can get a telephoto-like effect just by cropping your photos. Take this picture, for instance. Even though it was taken with a digital camera set to its longest telephoto setting, it feels like a wide-angle photo taken to capture the entire vista around the foot of a waterfall. But what if you really wanted the detail around the girl in the middle of the photo? If you don't have any more zoom range left and can't walk any closer to the subject, then crop it on the PC afterwards, like so.