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:
Teaching young filmmakers can be a tricky business. It’s a huge discipline that requires knowledge of a wide range of mediums, and a combination of practical skills unlike anything else. Not only that, but the media industry, as a general rule, is a hard one to break into. What can you offer them now that will be most useful down the line?
Here are our top 5 suggestions to start you off:
1. Keep Creating
When it comes to applying for jobs in the industry, entering competitions, or just to see how far they’ve come, having an expansive showreel is only going to be a benefit for a young filmmaker.
Not only will it show that they have the work ethic to consistently make new things, it also acts as a constant learning process that will teach them practical lessons which can’t be taught in the classroom.
2. Don’t be afraid to experiment, and fail
As Chuck Jones once said “Every artist has thousands of byoung filmad drawings in them, and the only way to get rid of them is to draw them out.” and this is true for filmmakers too. No great director, whether it was Spielberg, Nolan, Hitchcock or any other you care to name, started great.
They spent years making bad films, and every time they failed they learned a little more. That’s why you should emphasise that experimentation is a good thing. Even if it doesn’t work, the lesson learned through that failure will be invaluable.
Whether you see it as a bad thing or not, the film industry operates just as much on a “who you know” basis as a “what you know”. Any young filmmaker should be encouraged to make as many contacts as they can, both inside and out of the industry.
You never know when that one good conversation a few months ago could result in a phone call from someone in desperate need to fill a position, and then you’re in.
4. Try not to specialise too much
Despite every aspiring filmmaker having a dream job within the industry, and also areas they are good at, that shouldn’t stop them trying to learn as many different positions in the production chain as possible.
Just as knowing people can help them get an in, so can being able to put their hand abley to many different positions. Once they’re in, then they can move towards their dream job, but sometimes it means going in though the side door.
5. Perseverance is everything
Ultimately, getting a start in filmmaking is going to be an uphill battle. Your pupils will get knocked back more times than they’ll care to count, and you need to tell them that not only should they keep going, but it’s also just part of the process.
No one working in the creative industries today got there because they gave up at the first rejection. They tried again and again, taking multiple setbacks along the way, to the point