Wide-angle lens

Filmmaker's Dictionary Feb 9, 2021

What is a wide-angle lens?

A wide-angle lens is defined as a lens with a focal length shorter than the length of the sensor. In most cases, this means that any lens with a focal length of 35mm or less is a wide-angle. They offer a wider field of view than human vision, usually around 65°. Lenses between 18-24mm are ultra-wide lenses.

Use in photography

Wide-angle lenses make the subject appear further away than it really is. They also create a large frame for settings, context, and action. In photography, this makes them popular for architectural, interior, and outdoor shots, as they’re able to capture grand landscapes from a short distance.

Impact of the wide-angle lens

These lenses are commonly used to show off a scene, or a setting. Vast landfills, empty deserts, skylines… they’re usually shot on a wide-angle lens. Whether it’s establishing shots or extreme wide shots that a filmmaker needs to immerse the audience into the world they’ve created, this lens is an excellent choice.

There is also a shift of perspective when shooting with wide-angle lenses. Objects in the background appear smaller than with an undistorted view, separating the characters or objects in the foreground and making them stand out more.

It’s not just a scene’s context that this lens can amazingly highlight, it’s also great for characters and plot. While most close-ups are done with normal or telephoto lenses, it’s difficult to capture body language and spatial relationships with these lenses. Wide-angles can tell the whole story most simply by fitting more details into the frame.

Steven Spielberg has a strong loyalty to wide-angle lenses for a lot of his productions, including Minority Report. With clever blocking and staging, he’s able to give subtext that goes beyond what’s purely “happening” on screen. Find out more about how blocking and can elevate your production on Masterclass.

Summary

If you want to show off the environment and production design, while giving your actors the space to perform, a wide-angle lens might be perfect for you. Experiment with how you can create an immersive experience and tell your story.

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