Legendary director Stanley Kubrick was known to be obsessed with cameras and pushing the limits of cinematic technology, with much of his technical awareness stemming from his days as a stills photographer. A new video essay by the British Film Institute now explains his use of different lenses to create the movie Barry Lyndon, which won an Oscar for its cinematography.
We’ve written before about the famous Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm F0.7 lens (originally developed for NASA) that he used, but the BFI essay also discusses how he used it. It also looks at his use of zoom shots and the meanings he hoped to convey with them.
Many scenes in the movie were shot in natural light and very dim candlelight to authentically portray the look and feel of the 18th century. In the very low light conditions Kubrick had to shoot with the superfast F0.7 lens’ aperture fully open, resulting in an extremely shallow depth-of-field. This required re-thinking the way such scenes were staged and demanded reduced actor movement, to avoid mis-focus, but the director felt this helped convey the stilted 18th century atmosphere.
The video essay can be viewed on the British Film Institute’s Facebook page.