Shane Hurlbut on How Lenses Assist in Storytelling

Shane Hurlbut talks how different lenses handle contrast and tones can help you shade the story you’re trying to make.

Zeiss ZE

Zeiss ZE

“The camera is a tool, but the glass serves as your eyes into the story.”

The lens’ traits can help tell your story. The look and feel of lenses, their characteristics of color and contrast rendition, are all relevant factors. For example, some lenses are cold, some have warmth, and many are yellow. My choice of lenses was paramount when I was slated to shoot The Greatest Game Ever Played. It was a period piece that took place between 1888 and 1912. Bill Paxton, the director, and I were both fans of the FSA (Farm Security Administration) photos featuring photographers Dorthea Lange and Walker Evans. They were mainly black and white images. There had just been some 1600 Kodachrome prints that were discovered in a trunk in someone’s attic, and they were reprinted in a book called Bound for Glory.

We chose this style to be the look of the movie. We worked to test every lens to try and recapture this imagery. We tried Panavision Primos, Cooke S4s, old Baltars, and Cooke Pancros. Ultimately, Bill Paxton and I settled on the Panavision Zeiss Ultra Speed Primes. They had a nice yellow feel. They had a lower contrast, no up-to-date lens coating that flared nicely. When you took them down to an f-stop of a 2.0, the lens started to fall apart. This was magic; it was the Kodachrome feel of 1939, which is what we were going for. I shot most of the film at this f-stop — not the best thing for my focus pullers, but they soon strapped on their focus pants and were ready to play! The glass took the viewer into this era, into Francis Quimet’s amazing story and his incredible victory.

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