Monday, July 13, 2009

What's so funny about wide angle lenses?

Wide angle lenses are funny.

This is one of those rules you need to learn not because it's true, but because I guarantee you, someday when you're shooting a serious scene and you ask your DP to put up the 10mm, you're going to be invited to explain why.

It's one of those rules that a lot of people know. And it's wrong.

Okay, it's not entirely wrong. It's partly true. Wide angle lenses distort –– stuff close to the lens looks bigger than stuff farther away. (If you're having a hard time picturing what I'm talking about, take a look in the side mirror of your car. A convex mirror creates the same effect.)

The idea is that the subject looks ridiculous and ridiculous is funny.

If you want to break it down, it's just an element of film grammar. Shooting a person up close with a wide-angle lens is shorthand. It tells the audience to expect to laugh, in the same way that an ooompah tuba playing underneath your scene does.

That's not necessarily wrong, in and of itself. The problem is that too many directors rely on wide angle lenses to try and make something funny when it's not.

So am I saying not to use wide angle lenses? Of course not. I use them all the time, especially in my still work, which by the way is not funny at all. (See for yourself at
http://www.elixirlens.com.)

But if you think a different lens is going to save a lackluster performance of mediocre material, you might as well be Michael Bay.