Telephoto lens in The Graduate

Lens choice is one of the many creative areas, that the cinematographer is responsible for. Different lenses are used for different purposes. In this example, we’ll explore how Robert Surtees used telephoto lens to heighten the suspense and drama in the final sequence of The Graduate.

Now, because we’ll be talking a lot about lenses, I recommend you to watch a short video by Vincent Laforet and Blake Whitman from the Vimeo Video School. It’s short, informative and funny!

So, what is really important to remember, is that telephoto lenses compress the background and foreground, while wide angle lenses tend to magnify the distance between background and foreground.

Behind the Glass Part 2: Focal Length
Behind the Glass Part 2: Focal Length
Behind the Glass Part 2: Focal Length
Behind the Glass Part 2: Focal Length

Hopefully at this point it, it is clear what is the difference between wide angle lens and telephoto lens, so if you happen to be a cinematographer on a movie, here is how you can use those differences to your advantage and tell a better story.

In the final sequence, Benjamin runs to the church. It’s a race against the clock. He is trying to make it there, before Elaine (his girlfriend) marries Carl (husband chosen by Elaine’s parents).

The scene could have been captured from side using wide angle lens, but much better choice was to use telephoto lens and film the scene, so that Benjamin is running towards the camera.

The Graduate (1967)
The Graduate (1967)

We already know, that telephoto lenses compress the space (background and foreground). The side effect is that when you have a moving object or character in the scene, it appears as if they stay at almost the same place, even if they are moving really fast.

Benjamin is (literally) running out of the time and thanks to the characteristics of telephoto lenses, it looks like he is moving slow, which increases the drama and suspense of the scene. (Will he make it in time?)

Watch the final sequence in the video below:

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