The long lens can be used to enhance location shoots, create extreme changes of focus and strengthen your compositions. This lesson builds on the previous lesson and includes tips on lighting and controlling focus.
How to Make Advanced Shots With a Long Lens
These advanced techniques give you powerful ways to open scenes, direct attention and beautify a shot.
Use a Long Lens to Hide Bad Backgrounds
For low budget filmmakers in particular, we often end up on the edge of a park and the last thing you want to do is make it look like that’s where you are. You can solve this problem by using a much longer lens.
This isn’t just a trick for budget film makers, it’s absolutely used all the time to enhance locations. If you ever get the chance to visit locations where films have been made, you’ll be amazed at what’s been hidden. Often, in really beautiful locations, there’ll be something awful and shot-ruining just across the road: most often, a long lens was used to hide it.
Rather than using a medium lens or short telephoto lens like in the image above, step back from your subject and use the longest lens you can. Below, we haven’t changed the framing but the background is pulled so much closer and out of focus.
We no longer have that cheap feeling of being on the edge of a park.
Use a Long Lens to Hide Light Sources
Long lenses can also be used to hide light sources. Below, I’m using a stadium flood light to illuminate the actor. It just happened to be at the location. By using a long lens, I’m able to hide the light and get this lovely rim light.
You can use this technique with your own lights too. If you need to hide a stand or other hardware, you may need to go a little lower with your shot. That way you won’t see the lamp or the stand which would ruin the shot.
Introduce Scenes By Pulling Focus
Pulling focus from a foreground object to a background object is a great way to introduce new scenes. It works best when you stand as close to the foreground object as the focusing distance of your lens allows. That way, the background will be completely hidden and can be revealed. In the image below, the camera is a few feet away from the light pole. The subject in the background is completely hidden.
Pull focuses work best when there’s some camera movement to the side, or up
and down. Both is even better. It has a much more interesting feel than
when the camera remains static and only the focus changes. It also hides
the focus change from the audience; they don’t notice it and just feel
A variation on this is to let the background show through a little right
from the beginning. It doesn’t have the same revealing effect but can be
beautiful. It’s helps if the foreground subject and background subject
are somehow related.
Here, a girl in the background is playing with the tree and in the foreground we have a little twig. This
technique works best when, like here, the foreground object is small and
delicate. If you’re going to have things happen in the background, it’s
best not to have the foreground object filling half the frame.
Pull focus is easiest if you have a follow focus unit attached to your
If you don’t, or aren’t using cine lenses, then here’s a handy
trick for pulling focus. Focus on the background object and place your
thumb in a comfortable position on the focus ring. Get a feel for where
it is. Next, focus on the foreground object. When it comes to make the
shot, let your thumb return to the comfortable position where you were
focused on the background object. It’s a lot more natural than trying to
do it by eye.
Let the Subject Move Through the Frame
really good use of the long lens is to keep the camera still and let the
subject move through the frame. Below, the path cuts across the frame
twice which creates a really strong composition. The dark sky in the top
third also helps. To get a composition like this, you often need to go a
long way back and use the longest possible lens.
using a long lens and keeping the camera absolutely still, we get a
really strong sense of motion and of the subject moving through this
space. It can be a bit counter-intuitive; usually to create a sense of
motion we try to follow an actor through a scene but sometimes, but this
can sometimes work better. Try it out.
Reveal Locations with a Camera Tilt
great way to reveal locations is to use a simple tilt. Below, the shot
starts with a long lens focused on the actor’s feet.
As she moves forward all we do is tilt up and it’s her motion that’s guiding the camera up to reveal the location behind her.
doesn’t feel like a random, stuck-on-camera move. If the audience feels
the move, you’ve drawn too much attention to it. You want them thinking
about the character and what they’re going through.
Create Mystery With a High Long Lens
height has an enormous effect on any shot. With a long lens, it’s
tempting to keep it level with the subject and reveal everything. By
raising the camera up, like in the shot below, you can create a much
more mysterious feeling.
don’t see the road at the end of the alleyway or any other details.
There’s a lot more tension and mystery. If you reveal everything, the
audience won’t be intrigued about what the character is going through.
Use a Long Lens for Closeups
lenses are often used for close ups. A better technique than just
zooming in, is to also include something else in the frame. Below, is an
example. Rather than just looking at the leaf, you can also see the
person holding it. This is a lot more interesting.
long lens isolates things so if you just shoot a close up on its own,
it can look like something from a nature documentary. By including some
other details, it becomes a much more human shot.
though this lesson has looked at advanced techniques for the long lens,
we’re still just scratching the surface. Check out the rest of the lessons in this series and get out their and start experimenting.