The Psychology of the Lens: Patrick Moreau creates filmic intimacy with DSLRs at Stillmotion
Patrick Moreau of Stillmotion in Toronto and San Francisco shapes such strong intimate images at weddings, that the NFL hired him to shoot “The Season: Super Bowl XLV” and Callaway hired him to create intimate profiles of Callaway golfers.
With a background in psychology, Moreau engages “psychology to tell stories” in his documentary work and now in his commercial work. He explains that psychology “helps us really understand the people we are working with as well as the stories we are trying to tell and how we can use our equipment to tell those stories better or in a more relevant way.” It’s not a set formula, but rather, it’s being present and making conscious decisions when it comes to camera and lens selection.
A fleeting, but intimate moment of an NFL player’s worried furrowed brow captured in Stillmotion’s NFL video shot with DSLRs, The Season: Super Bowl XLV.” The long lens and shallow focal depth isolates the player and shapes the psychology of the drama Moreau helped craft through lens choices.
A wider lens and deep focus allows Moreau to capture his subject in a space that reveals the character’s emotions in an intimate way.
Moreau tells me in an interview at the National Association of Broadcasting (NAB) convention in Las Vegas (2011) that the psychological filmmaking process “forces us to question everything we are doing [and it makes us] really think about why this lens or why this camera tool.”
Like all stories, it begins with character and not technology, however, “A big part of all of the filmmaking we do is really getting to know the people we are working with,” Moreau says. And then they can begin to “think about how we can interpret them through our gear.” Lens selection is a big part of that gear choice. “A lot of people don’t really realize that when you change a lens you change a lot more than depth of field [or] field of view,” Moreau feels.
Within Moreau’s psychology of the lens, it’s a lot more than just framing the field of view. “People think you go to a wide lens because I want more in my frame or I go to a tight lens because I want less in my frame. Right?” But, he explains, you can easily change your field of view with a single lens by walking closer or farther away from a subject.
“So if we can shoot somebody really close with say a 24mm lens or really far away with a 135mm lens what is the difference?” Moreau asks, but the bigger question is deciding “where we should be with which lens.” The answer is tied to not just how the shot should be framed, but the psychological frame: “we always try to think of who [our subjects] are and how we can use our lenses to best communicate them.”
An example of using a wide lens occurs, Moreau says, when “you have somebody that is a little bit sillier or more comedic.” They would move in close with the wide lens because it will “stretch and exaggerate people and really play off the energy, and you are going to feel their movement and the life in them a lot more.”
On the other hand, Moreau might use a long lens for a character “who is a little more dramatic.” Perhaps you want to accent this type of character by making him or her “a little more disconnected and looking outside in.” The long lens, Moreau says, “is going to compress things, bring the features in, and that really shallow depth of field has you focus specifically on what we want you to focus on — but it also makes you feel that you are watching” the character from a distance, “rather than as an actual participant that a wider lens set closer will do.”
Moreau’s Stillmotion team captures an intimate, cinéma vérité style moment in the wedding story, Winnie + Jerry.
This kind of psychological and intimate lens work isn’t just about setting up a shot, however. Rather, Moreau’s event background (as a wedding cinematographer), prepares him and his team to be ready to shoot “things as they happen.” By getting to know our couples, we are then able to predict things in a participatory manner. This cinéma vérité approach to filmmaking allows him to craft commercials that are “real” in the way of all cinéma vérité documentaries: “We don’t ask them to do something again.” Life happens in the moment, and to capture that moment is the artistry of Patrick Moreau’s filmmaking.
If a subject/performer is asked to stop and do an action over — especially when there are large crews — you may “lose that same honesty in what they are doing,” Moreau says.
Patrick Moreau’s Stillmotion produced a series of intimate portraits of Callaway golfers. Here, Trevor’s child in the foreground plays with his father, soft focus in the background. The small size of the DSLR along with a small crew, fostered his team’s ability to get such intimate shots.
For example, Moreau’s Stillmotion produced a series of intimate portraits of the Callaway golfers. In some cases, the series required his team to go into golfers’ homes. A large film crew and large cameras would have negatively impacted the intimacy Moreau was looking for. We would shoot Trevor with his child in his backyard playing basketball or in his living room playing ping pong with his trainer, Moreau says, “and being able to have small cameras, small gear we can get in there really quickly but still have that production value.”
Without such “small setups” with a “really small” crew, Moreau contends, it would have been difficult to get the shots he wanted. He feels subjects want to know that you’re going to tell their story properly and show them in the way they want to be shown. They’re “very vulnerable letting you into their house,” Moreau adds, but “by being very low impact and being a step ahead of them and letting them be themselves you get a very intimate reflection of who these people really are.”
These intimate moments in the Callaway spots, Moreau believes, stem from the fact that “these moments are exactly like the way they would have happened whether we were there or not and to me this is the power of these [DSLR] cameras. They allow you to capture real things.” And it expressed the production values of broadcast TV.
Despite the limitations of DSLRs (such as working around audio recording, limited takes for shooting documentary interviews), Moreau wouldn’t use another camera. Even “if Canon released a larger camera that solved all of those we definitely wouldn’t switch,” Moreau says.
Why? He feels “the power is in the size”, providing the intimacy of realistic human portraits that “almost have an event edge to it, whether or not it is a natural event or it is just working with somebody who doesn’t have acting experience.” Because of such possibilities, Moreau adds, these “DSLR cameras will definitely stay with us.”
If you want to learn from Patrick Moreau and his team at Stillmotion, join his Canon workshop tour, “Deconstructing the Story: Light, Sound, Motion & EOS HD.”