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How to Make Advanced Cinematic Shots With a Short Lens

The short lens isn’t just for shooting wide-angles, but for controlling
how your video conveys the scale of a scene. Use the short lens to
increase speed, change perspective and affect motion. From distorted
close-ups to rapid moves, this lesson covers the advanced techniques for
shooting expert footage with the short lens.

 

Short, Medium and Long Lenses

Short
lenses have a shorter focal length than medium or long lenses. The
short lens is often known as a wide lens because you can get a wide
angle of view. I avoid the term wide because it leads people to just use
the short lens for wide shots of landscapes. 

The line between
the three types of lenses isn’t clearly defined. A 24mm lens is shorter
on a Canon 7D than a Black Magic cinema camera. It’s a different result
again with a RED EPIC. The best way to get a feel for the differences
between lenses, is to get out and use them.

The Short Lens Close Up

For
close ups we often use a long lens. It isolates the face and it
flatters the features but you can use a short lens. This is something
that Peter Jackson often does because it distorts the face so it creates
a creepy and eerie nightmare feeling. 

It’s not at all flattering
to the actors so you don’t want to do this at times when you’re trying
to make someone look attractive and you also have to be aware that the
short lens, because it has a wide angle of view, will reveal more of the
background. 

close up
A short lens closeup has a nightmarish look.

A
short lens closeup is also quite intense for the actor because you have
to get very close to their face. It might look like you’re about 30
centimetres away from the actor in the shot but in fact you’ll need to
be about three or four centimetres away from their face. 

close up
Going a little higher can be more flattering.

The
distortion it causes will often make the actor’s nose appear much
larger than it really is. That’s partly why it’s so unflattering. One
way to compensate for this is to raise the camera slightly. You still
get that same distortion and nightmarish feeling but it can just be a
little more flattering on the actor’s features.

Exaggerating Motion

In
the basic short lens tutorial we looked at how the short lens exaggerates motion
towards the camera. You can really take advantage of this by having the
actor move towards the camera at the same time that the camera moves
towards the actor. 

starting spot
The actor starts small in the frame.

In
the shot in the accompanying video, the actor takes two steps towards
the camera and the camera moves two steps towards her. The result is an
enormous change: she goes from being tiny in the frame to almost filling
the frame in a very short time. This is really useful at moments of
great drama when somebody sees something unexpected. 

movement close
And a short moment later she fills it.

A
variation on the shot is to begin out of focus and then as you push in
you reach the focus point that you set previously. That actually works
better at night when somebody is emerging from a dark space. 

Exaggerating Speed

In
the basic lesson we looked at how speed can be exaggerated. When
somebody runs towards the camera they appear to be going much faster. A
more advanced version of this technique involves framing the actor
differently and having the camera lower than it appears to be. 

camera track
The camera pans hard to the right as the actor runs past.

In
the shot in the video, the camera looks as though it’s on the same
level as the actor but in fact the camera is down at ground level. She’s
framed on the right of frame and as she runs towards the camera, the
camera remains absolutely stationary until she gets quite close. Then
it’s as though her movement drags the camera around. It pans hard to the
right. Because the camera is so low it has to pivot around to follow
her and that massively increases the feeling of speed. 

As the
shot ends, the camera moves around and frames her on the left. That way
she’s moved from the right to the left of frame. That again enhances
this feeling of speed. 

Abstract Shots

The short lens can
also be used for semi-abstract moments, where you look up at the sky and
the camera circles around. This is often used when someone is lost or
confused in a film. In the first version of the shot in the video, the
branches in the very center of the frame stay exactly where they are. It
is the camera simply rotating. 

abstract
Short lenses are great for abstract shots.

A
variation on this is to have the camera swing along slightly as well as
turning. This creates a slightly less nightmarish feeling. 

To
achieve the first effect, you simply turn the camera. It can be handheld
or on a tripod. For the second, move the camera a short distance from
side to side so as rotates. The difference between these two short lens
effects is very subtle and it’s often worth filming both versions and
seeing which you need when it comes to the edit. 

Circle a Stationary Actor

The
short lens is also a great way to move around an actor who stationary.
Let’s imagine you’ve a shot where the actor sees something in the
distance. You want to show her reaction. Rather than just moving the
camera to the other side and showing her reaction, you can spin around
her. In the shot in the video, that’s exactly what I do.

This is a
very simple camera move that can be achieved hand-held. You don’t need a
Steadi-Cam although it can help to use stabilisation software in
post-production.

Introduce Elements of Surprise

The short lens is a great way to introduce elements of surprise. 

You
can open with a shot that looks as though you’re just looking at a
street or a landscape, and then the actor appears from behind the
camera. A great variation on this is to actually have objects or people
pass over the camera. In the shot in the video, we start with what
appears to be just a landscape shot and then the two actors holding
hands move right over the top of the camera. 

moving over
The two actors move directly over the camera.

It’s a really powerful way to introduce people to a scene. 

Wrapping Up

So
remember, the short lens isn’t just for shooting wide angles. It’s for
creating distortion and working with motion to create the advanced
effects I’ve covered in this lesson. Use the short lens right and it can
really enhance your filmmaking.