Does the lens choice make a ‘look’

When people talk about ‘looks’ it generally goes down one of two routes, either period based in the sense of  ‘I want that 70’s look’ or lens based as in ‘give me that Cooke look’. The first of these is a complex request that involves all departments that come together to create a colour pallet, costume range, production design, make up, lighting style, framing etc. The combination of these add up to the sum of setting the action in ‘a period in time’. The second is of course much easier to achieve – you hire in a set of Cookes, and boom, your ‘Cooke look’ is achieved. The issue is that the ‘Cooke look’ is a subjective thing. Sure the lenses tend to have attributes that give common ground – for instance with Cooke – people would associate maybe warmth or a more forgiving sharpness but they are also a victim to association. In this case Cooke is often associated with comedies, feel good films, human stories etc so for those who don’t test the lenses the ‘Cooke look’ becomes partially about genre. I’m talking mainly here about a good proportion of producers, some directors and most audiences, not about DoP’s who spend days testing. The Cooke look ends up being a combination of the lens attributes and the colour pallet, costume range, production design, make up, lighting style, framing etc (sounding familiar?) that those genres are known for. So the point is that in my head the lens choice should be the final part of the discussion of ‘the look’, the icing on the cake to complete the ‘look’. It does have an effect and as a DoP it feels hugely important – some lenses flare more easily, some are faster so will give a very narrow depth of field, some are older and have more aberrations or character, some have higher contrast, some flatter… It plays a part but, and I know I’m opening myself up to being ritually ridiculed here, it is a smaller part compared to the combination of all the departments coming together to achieve the ‘look’.

I own a set of Celere lenses that are building a sense of what they look like but are not recognised as having a recognisable look outside of the group who use them. I use them because to me they look pleasing and suit the body of my work. I don’t shoot everything on them but probably about 75% of the films I shoot. If you want to know more about my choices on those lenses there is another blog entry on this page called ‘Never discuss, politics, religion or lenses’ but if you just want to see a variety of short-form projects all shot with these lenses then click on the film below. All shots on this film used the Celeres and mostly orginated on a RED Dragon. I have tried to pick a range of work – some greenscreen, some motion control, some location, some low budget, some high budget. I have left it at a higher bit rate than I would normally for the net for those who want to see the nuances so you might need an element of patience! Hope you enjoy.

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