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Different Focal lengths for actors (8 replies and 7 comments)

sydneydan
2 months ago
sydneydan 2 months ago

Hi Roger,

first of all thanks for sharing your knowledge here. It has been a big help for me and I guess so many other aspiring filmmakers.

I recently saw that you were using wider focal lengths for the main character in Blade Runner while using longer lenses for other characters in order that  the audience feels more connected with the main character.

I found this very interesting and wanted to ask you if this approach was unique to Blade Runnwr or if this is something you regularly do?

thanks and best regards,

Daniel

Roger Deakins
2 months ago
Roger Deakins 2 months ago

That is something I do from time to time and I think it can be effective. But I certainly wouldn't say we did all the time in 'BR 2049', far from it as there were many scenes with characters of equal weight.

Vanniyan
2 months ago

Generally longer lens gives more intimacy. But which way wide lens connect to the audience more than longer lens. Could you explain master!

Roger Deakins
2 months ago
Roger Deakins 2 months ago

You say a longer lens gives more intimacy but isn't it true that a longer lens also puts the viewer further away from the subject? Is that supposed 'intimacy' created by the size of the subject in frame, which could equally be made using a wider lens tighter in?

Vanniyan
2 months ago

I am not well experienced than you master. Once you said longer lens would gives more intimacy. That's what most of the romantic love stories shot on longer lens. I am sure any longer lens would push and separate the baground from the viewers more compare than wide lens. What's your idea about it.

MiguelMas
2 months ago

Roger... what about the facial distortion using a wide angle in close can cause? As opposed to using a not as wide lens and staying a little further back... I understand if you want the distortion for visual impact that strengthens the narrative...

Roger Deakins
2 months ago
Roger Deakins 2 months ago

You have a good grasp of what lenses can achieve. Yes, a longer lens will separate a character by de-focusing the background and can be a reason for their use on 'romantic' stories. Wide angle lenses can distort when used in close but when you say that this is less 'intimate', I am not so sure. So much is a matter of context.

MiguelMas
2 months ago

This thread has caused me to think deeper..rethink actually... my approach to lens choice for shots of people when it comes to narrative cinema as opposed to stills and documentary(which is my background)... Am I on the right path if I think of lens choice - longer vs wide- as a tool to reveal aspects of the CHARACTER (as opposed to a portrait of the person who is the actor) - in which case intimacy can be achieved with a wide lens by showing that character at that point in the image stream sitting surrounded by their lifetime of accumulated belongings in the street in front of their house... or in their Upper East Side living room... just acouple of examples... whereas a longer lens with shallow depth of focus might bring us into the mask that is their face, but reveal nothing except what the character behind that mask wants us to see... in short,you as a cinematographer have to make your choices for revealing portraits of the characters as opposed to a portrait of the actor... I hope that makes sense... Any of Gary Oldman's characters come to mind... as opposed to the photos of Gary off camera...
Now I have to recalibrate my whole approach/mindset to shooting... I am aware of the "mask" people put on in real life... Penn and Avedon had two totally different approaches to getting their subjects to drop that mask... even if for a split second... but you have to get past the preconceived image you carry of the actor and make your lens,angle lighting choices to probe and reveal the character the actor is bringing to life... and that is more than relying on makeup and costume... Hope I am getting this right...

tbickelgrip
2 months ago
tbickelgrip 2 months ago

I’ve seen some side by side tests of wider vs longer focal lengths being used to achieve the same frame on an actor. To my eye, the longer focal lengths began to create a look that made me feel I was looking at the actor from far away instead of being near them, almost as if I was looking at them through a telescope. I imagine the effect was strengthened by the fact the frame was a wide shot, which probably added to my perceived voyeurism. 

Vanniyan
2 months ago
Vanniyan 2 months ago

Master roger now i am just thinking why sam Peckinpah use long focal length for most of his movie. Conrad hall used zoom lens on 'Butch cassidy and the Sundance kid'. Now i need to watch again 'Butch cassidy and the Sundance kid'.

Roger Deakins
2 months ago
Roger Deakins 2 months ago

The use of the zoom on 'Butch Cassidy' was for a particular effect. And I don't think you are right about Peckinpah using long lenses. He certainly did for some shots, such as the bridge explosion in 'The Wild Bunch', but not as a norm. But what do you consider a long lens?

Vanniyan
2 months ago

Master roger i don't what effect you are talking about. But after a long time i have studied 'butch cassidy and the Sundance kid' movie lensing. I felt the law people's chasing the robbery characters at the particular distance. I can't figure out who they are. Its a kind of danger. I agree some of the long lens shots in this movie gives the distance feel rather than intimacy. One of the Connie's best zoom work 'butch cassidy and the Sundance kid' IMO. Sorry for what I have told about Peckinpah movie. I need to re observe his lensing style. But most of the slo-Mo shots long lenses.

Roger Deakins
2 months ago
Roger Deakins 2 months ago

Yes, there are a lot of long lens slow-mo shots in Peckinpah's films where action scenes were staged for multiple cameras and this way of shooting  generally leads to long lens work. As for 'Butch Cassidy', I like the shots of the chasing posse, where the zoom is used for what it is - a zoom.

Vanniyan
2 months ago

I know you are not great fan of long lenses. But suppose if the situation and script call zoom lens what is your options? Do you remember any other movie where the zoom used well.

Roger Deakins
2 months ago
Roger Deakins 2 months ago

We use a zoom in '1984' and we used a zoom in 'The Village'. I have no problem with using zoom lenses when they have a purpose, such as was clearly the case in 'Butch Cassidy'. What I don't like to do is shoot with a zoom as if it were a prime of any focal length. I like to consider why a certain lens length is being used rather than just adjust the frame by zooming. That, to me, is sloppy.

I also love long lenses when they too have a purpose and not used just to make a 'pretty' shot.

Vanniyan
2 months ago

Yes Master roger i want to ask one thing. When you use zoom lens it create beautiful image for most time.Connie hall said his interview 'when you use a long lens there is a tendency to make things very beautiful. The lens throws the background and the foreground out of focus and creates a lovely, dreamy sort of aura that kind of works against anything you show being a menace.how to overcome this problem. Because the foreground and backgound soft focus makes always beautiful!

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