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How to Make Cinematic Shots With a Wide-Angle Lens

This post is part of a series called Cinematic Shot Choices.
How to Make Cinematic Shots With a Telephoto Lens
How to Make Cinematic Shots with a Medium Lens

When you shoot with a short lens—also called a wide angle—it affects the way all your video looks. Not only does this lens give you a wide view of the scene, but it changes the speed at which people and objects appear to move within a scene. It can even change how camera moves look and feel. You can enhance all your video work when you know the strengths and benefits of the short lens.

A short lens is not always physically very small. You can even have short zooms: the examples in this lesson were shot using a 10-to-22-millimetre zoom lens. Whatever short lens you're using, however, will give you a similar effect. 

Visual Effects

A Wide Field of View

You can see in the example below that shots from a short lens have a very wide angle of view, or field of view. 

In this image, the camera is about a foot away from the actor, and the lens is zoomed in to nearly a medium, or "normal," lens. You can just see the edge of the map on the wall, and you can see some of the computer. 

short lens zoomed inshort lens zoomed inshort lens zoomed in
A somewhat short lens.

When we zoom out to a shorter lens, the actor seems to have moved further away from the camera, but we also have a wider angle of view. We can see the wall on one side of the map now, and we can see almost all of that computer screen. 

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A really short lens.

It’s really important to know that, without moving physically, we've increased the angle of view.

Deep Depth of Field

Short lenses tend to have a deeper depth of field than long lenses. 

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Short lenses have a lot of depth of field.

In the shot above, the background is a little bit blurred. Often, you'll find you can get absolutely everything in focus with a short lens. Of course, this is all affected by light and aperture as well, but in general sharp lenses are sharper all the way through the image. 

Reasons to Use a Short Lens

To Show a Wide Landscape

A short lens can be used for shots where you’re trying to show a wide landscape. You can get both the subjects and the background all in focus. In the shot below from my movie, the Sculptor’s Ritual, we can see the foreground actors and the man in the background all at once. 

Everythings in focusEverythings in focusEverythings in focus
Everything's in focus.

To Make a Room Look Bigger

You can use a short lens when you're in a very tight space and you're trying to make the room look bigger or need to see more of the room. The wide angle of view makes spaces look more expansive.

Expansive roomExpansive roomExpansive room
With a short lens, this room looks bigger than it is.

To Speed Up Motion

As well as extending distance, a short lens also has the effect of making motion seem faster. As a subject moves across the frame, they can go from normal size to tiny in just a few steps.

Equally, an object that appears very close to camera and very far away from the actor is only a few steps away, and they can cross that distance in just a few moments. 

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The actor will cover this distance quickly.

This is an effect that’s used all the time in film and television. It’s particularly effective in scenes where you have someone moving down a corridor because the walls on the side emphasise the effect. It’s one of the best ways to make a slow jog look like a fast run.

car speedingcar speedingcar speeding
Cars can be made to look as if they're speeding when they're actually moving pretty slowly.

This also works with other objects like cars. You can make a car that’s moving at only 60 kilometres an hour look as if it’s speeding past.

To Work Handheld

For handheld shots, a short lens is a good way of hiding the handheld look. Footage doesn’t look too wobbly, as it would if you used a long lens.

To Let Actors Improvise

Short lenses also make it very easy to follow somebody when they're improvising. This is almost impossible with a long lens or even a medium lens. With a short lens, you are able to stay close to the subject, keep your motions smooth, and keep everything in focus.

Learn More About Lens Choice

Short lenses are just one of the techniques you can use in your cinematography. To learn more about some other techniques, check out the learning guide.

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