March 26, 2019

How to Choose a Lens (and Why) According to DP Bradford Young

Cinematography Lenses
Acclaimed DP Bradford Young shares insights into how he chooses his lenses.

In an insightful interview with director of photography Bradford Young (best known for his cinematography work on Selma, A Most Violent Year and Arrival), we get a rare peek into the planning and decision-making process of one of the best DPs in the industry.

Cinematography is truly an art form like no other, and is one in which even the most seasoned professionals must be constantly honing and developing their skills. Young shares some of his thought process into how he plans his shoots and decides how and why he’ll use a given lens for every shot.

Let’s break down some of Young’s points and tips from this video spotlight by CookeOpticsTV.

Begin in the “Testing Phase”

Using clips from A Most Violent Year and Selma as examples, Young talks about his first “testing phrase” part of his decision-making process. In his initial decisions, he’s looking not only at the size of the frame for each shot but also at his distance and physical relationship as part of the composition.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Intimate

One big takeaway from Young’s interview is his desire to be up close and intimate with the characters and in the scenes. And this doesn’t just apply to his physical proximity to the actors being filmed, as Young often encourages the entire crew to be close, engaged, and more personally connected to the characters and subjects.

Lenses

Stay Frustrated, Not Afraid

Young shares some of his thoughts on self-motivation and working in a system that can be openly hostile to minorities. He cites some fascinating insights which he picked up by studying the photography of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and how they were photographed differently by white photographers afraid to get too close, rather than to inform.

Learn From the Masters

Citing examples learned from the cinematography greats before him like Roger Deakins and Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, Young has drawn inspiration from how they have re-written the rules of cinematography and have opened his lens decision-making to include new ideas and levels of cinematic consciousness.

What's next? Read our full interview with Young on his work on Arrival.

What kinds of things do you consider when choosing lenses? Let us know down in the comments.     

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