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Posts Tagged ‘lens’

”I don’t know what lens do—don’t know what an f-stop is.”
—Producer/director/writer Judd Apatow
MasterClass

”THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD”/ DP Roger Deakins

From the above quote by Judd Apatow, you can gather that not every filmmaker is a Robert Rodriguez or a Steven Soderbergh who can not only produce, direct, and write—but also shoot and edit. Especially if you don’t have the comedic chops of Apatow, understanding lens and f-stops is an important step on your filmmaking and content creation journey. And it’s easier to learn the technical aspects at 15 or 20 years old verses when you’re 30 or 40 years old. (If for no other reasons that you have more time and less demands when you’re younger.)

Being able to shoot their own footage was an asset to writer/director Sean Baker (The Florida Project) and writer/director Lulu Wang (The Farewell) before their feature film careers took off. Baker shot EPK (electronic press kits) and Wang shot legal/medical interviews to pay the bills. Even if you never shoot your own stuff, there is a benefit to understanding the basics of cinematography. As a symphony conductor once told me, “A conductor doesn’t need to know how to play every instrument, but he [or she] needs to know what every instrument does.”

There are so many ways to learn about cinematography online these days. (And you really can do wonders with an iPhone.) Here’s a recent video from Sareesh Sudhakaran at the Wolfcrow YouTube channel that is informative on apertures.

I’ll add other videos to this post as I think will be helpful without overwhelming you. But here are four excellent videos produced by StudioBinder that cover overviews of aperture, ISO, shutter speed, and lighting.

But if you wanted to spend a little money to do a visual deep dive check out Shotdeck.

Related post: Lens, Light, Location (The Lesson That Took Took Chris McQuarrie 25 Years to Articulate)

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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Christopher Lockhart’s two hour interview with writer/director Christopher McQuarrie— that was originally shown on the private Facebook group The Inside Pitch— is now on YouTube.

Here are two filmmaking lessons from the Mission: Impossible writer/director McQuarrie (the second which he said took him 25 years to articulate):

LESSON 1

“I didn’t understand lens on my first film, and I never had one discussion about lens on the film. I do not know a single shot  in my first film—what lens it was shot on. I can guess it now because I’ve developed an eye for what lens are. Once you’ve determined who the audience is, the next most important conversation to have is about what is the lens? On my first film I never discussed the lens once. On Mission: Impossible Fallout, I had 3,000 setups in that movie. I had more setups than two Harry Potter movies combined. There was not one setup on that movie where the first conversation we had didn’t have the lens. We talked about the lens every single time. And what you need to think of when you think of lens. You can look up focal length. You can look up the rule of thirds. You can look up lighting. You can read all that stuff—all those books are so tedious and so boring, and I don’t understand them. And they’re really, really hard. Here’s what you need to do: when you look at a lens, look at the number on the focal length on the lens. Whether it’s an 18mm lens right up to, say, a 150 mm lens. The number on the lens signifies the amount of intimacy that that lens provides. And the more intimacy you want to put into the scene, or a line or a moment, the higher that number goes. And the more you want to stand back from the action the lower the number goes. . . understanding that principle when I was 20-years-old would have gotten me where I am a lot faster.”

LESSON 2:

“The other thing I want you to do is I want all of you to go out and take photographs. And I want you to do it with you phone. And what I want you to do when you’re taking the photograph is I want you to think about three things and only three things; lens, light, and location. And when you take a photograph and look at it and go ‘Why don’t I like this photograph?’ It is because one of three things, or all three of those things, are not in sync. And remember that you can almost always alter one of those three things. You can either change the light, you can change the location, or you can change the lens. On most iPhones now you can sort of pretend to change a lens. What we don’t understand when we’re first starting out, and what most people don’t tell us, they don’t make us aware of those things. They don’t make us aware of light. And so what happens is we look at the picture and we can’t understand why when we’re taking the picture that it doesn’t look like what our eye sees.. . . . So what you want to do is stop looking at the world through your eyes, and start looking at the world through the lens. If you don’t tell the lens what you want to see exactly, the lens will show you what it sees approximately  . . .  The first lesson in photography is just an awareness of those three things: lens, light, and location.”

Here’s an example of that from a photo I took last week with my iPhone. (Straight out of the camera with zero post production.)
Lens: I used the 2x (telephoto) on my iPhone 7 Plus to compress the tree in the foreground and the sunrise in the background.
Light: I knew the sunrise was at 6:41 so I had to be in position in my kayak before then. I also knew that the small sensor on the iPhone doesn’t actually handle the blinding sun well so I wanted to capture the sun just before it breaks the horizon. And because the camera want to expose for the tree in the foreground instead of the bright background, I had to use the slider to bring the exposure down. This would silhouette the tree which was the effect I wanted.
Location: Since I started kayaking four months ago I was familiar with the best places to shoot the sunrise. This cypress tree is my favorite location because I knew where I could position myself to get the best composition of the rising sun and the tree with Spanish moss to make it visually interesting. I was fortunate to get the clouds as they add extra visual interest. Perhaps the trickiest part was positioning myself on a kayak to be at the right place just before the sun shined through. There was less than 30 seconds to get the shot I wanted to get where the lens, light, and location came though.  The only thing that would have made it better was if I would of had Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) kayaking in the frame between the tree and the horizon. If Tom ever wants to make the two and a half hour trip from Clearwater to Orlando I’m up for a reshoot. (Seaplanes can land on the lake.) I’d even break out my Nikon for that.

IMG_5767

Light, Lens, Location

Related posts:
I did go to film school so I’m not bored by all the technical aspects of cinematography. Here are some posts I’ve written about the subject over the years:
Wide, Normal, and Telephoto Lens Explained & Other Cinematography Resources 
The Five C’s of Cinematography
Cinematography for Directors
Cinematic Storytelling
Master Shots 
Film Directing Shot by Shot
Film Directing, Cinematic Motion
Oscar Winning Cinematography ( 1927-2016)
Cinematography (Overview)
Cinematographer Allen Daviau (1942—2020)
Cinematography Cheats #1 (Jerry Maguire)
‘It’s all about emotions’ Cinematographer Jamusz Kamunski
10 Cinematography Tips (Roger Deakins)

Scott W. Smith 

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