Lenses can be a complex and confusing part of filmmaking for new students. There are so many variables and pieces of jargon to learn, and knowing which lens to use for which shot can be mind boggling at first. Thankfully though, there are some easy ways to teach the basics of what different lenses do, and why they do it, and we’ve put together a simple exercise for you to try with your students. It’s dealing with the basics, so it’s maybe best not to do it with advanced students, but even so, it’s useful knowledge no matter what.
The exercise will deal with giving your students information on what the different types of lenses do in relation to field of view, which is essentially how much stuff you can fit into frame, and which lens fits which shot.
● Ultra-Wide-Angle – Focal Length 16-23mm. Even wider than wide-angle, these lenses give a dramatic sense of distance by exaggerating the space between the foreground and the background. Great for highlighting objects close up, or for giving that “fly on the wall” documentary feel as they move smoothly.
● Wide-Angle Lenses – Focal Length less than 35mm. These lenses give a field of view wider than the human eye. They’re great for master shots as they can fill the shot with information without any distortion at the edges
● Standard Lenses – Focal Length 35-70mm. These lenses provide a field of view that’s very similar to the human eye. They’re great for natural looking perspectives such as medium and head-and-shoulders shots, but tend to be distorted at close range and can’t focus too well at long range.
● Telephoto Lenses – Focal Length above 70mm. The field of view of these lenses is narrower than the human eye. They’re great for isolating subjects from the background and making them stand out. Also useful for flattening perspective, which makes portrait shots look better. Most modelling shoots are done on these lenses.
Find a variety of shots from famous films shot on these different lenses, and ask your students, using the information on the lenses provided, to match the lens to the shot. It’s a fun little test that will not only get them thinking about what lenses do, but also can open up the discussion about what effect using those lenses has on the cinematic narrative of the film.
How does the director’s lens choice change how we see what’s in the frame? What are they drawing our eye towards? What information are they trying to include, or exclude?
If you want more information, this brilliant video by Youtube creator Darious Britt can give you everything you need and more: