Features and Columns · Movies

How Camera Lenses Affect How We Identify with Characters

Here’s a video essay that looks at the suggestive, subtle psychological qualities of camera lenses.
In The Mood For Love World of Wong Kar Wai
Criterion Collection
By  · Published on January 25th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay about how different camera lenses can affect how we identify with a character.

Movies, perhaps more than other art forms, can alter our perspective. And I mean that quite literally. There are camera lenses that replicate how the human eye sees, but for the most part, moving image camera lenses distort reality. And skilled filmmakers know how to weaponize these distortions for narrative effect.

In a recent edition of our How’d They Do That? column, we looked at how dolly zooms work. And when you start to break down how the visual effect functions, you get a pretty good sense of how emotionally charged things like focal length and field of vision can be. Rooms can feel larger, movement can accelerate, and faces can appear gross and distended. These suggestive psychological qualities can be powerful narrative tools in the right hands.

As the video essay below explains, camera lenses are one of the ways filmmakers differentiate subjective and objective perspectives. Which is to say: when the perspective of the camera reciprocates an on-screen character’s emotional headspace versus when the filmmaker is simply relaying objective information to the audience.

Ultimately, the narrative perspective of camera lenses is one of the many ways filmmakers tell stories in a purely visual sense. And I would encourage you to follow up on the video essay’s closing prompt: the next time a cinematic moment really works for you, pay close attention to the camera lens. It might just have something to do with it.

Watch “Lensing for Character Perspective“:

Who made this?

This video essay is by Lux, a series that explores film form, history, and culture. Texas-based Travis Lee Ratcliff runs the channel and is a working editor and filmmaker. You can subscribe to Lux on YouTube here. And you can follow them on Twitter here. They are also on Vimeo!

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).