In Gustavo Mercado’s newest book, The Filmmaker’s Eye: The Language of the Lens, the award-winning independent moviemaker turned professor explores the powers and capabilities of the camera lens.

Mercado explains that as moviemaking technology has advanced over the past 20 to 30 years, people’s ability to get professional-grade equipment has become easier than ever.

Language of the Lens examines how lenses have captured every emotion, theme, and moment on screen by exploring their storytelling power. In addition to a section dedicated to the technical concepts of the camera lens, such as field of view, lens speed, and depth of field, Mercado branches out beyond the technical lingo by connecting the actions of the lens to its effects on a story. To achieve this, the book is broken up into six sections.

(L to R) Stars Mickey O’Hagan and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, DP Radium Cheung, and Writer-Director Sean Baker’s iPhone-shot 2015 feature Tangerine is explored in Gustavo Mercado’s The Language of the Lens. Image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

“Space” discusses the link between the camera’s technical and storytelling roles, such as in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, in which he uses wide-angle lenses to convey life from the perspective of a child. In “Movement,” Mercado references Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins when discussing the importance of camera movement in creating a gritty, authentic story. “Focus” looks to demonstrate how focus influences a narrative’s emphasis. “Flares” focuses on the beams of light that enter a lens and how they affect a story, such as in the riding sequences in Easy Rider and the arrival of UFOs in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. “Distortion” exemplifies how the distortion produced by lenses can affect a story, particularly to convey whimsy, surreality, disorientation, or intoxication, as is the case with Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Finally, in “Intangibles” Mercado acknowledges that every lens is unique and that its personality brings authenticity to a film, as exemplified by Sean Baker, who filmed his movie Tangerine on an iPhone. These “optical personalities,” as Mercado calls them, bring excitement and allure to the journey of mastering the camera lens as you refine your craft.

THE TAKEAWAY: For the new moviemaking generation, Language of the Lens can serve as a reference point of how some of cinema’s greatest auteurs make use of the lens, as well as a key for how to use the tool. After reading Language of the Lens, moviemakers will be equipped with the ultimate knowledge to command any lens, from an iPhone to the most expensive glass money can buy. MM

This article appears in Moviemaker‘s Summer 2019 issue.