Getting close to your subject with a wide angle lens will distort the fact of your actor and make them look a little weird. Anything less than 35mm is considered wide angle. Ultra wide angle lenses may be as low as 10mm.
If you’re having difficulty understanding the effect of different focal lengths, check out this video which explains focal length and effects created by wide angle, normal and telephoto lens. Still having trouble? There are a bunch of images out there – like this gif or this range of portraits – which demonstrate what using a wide angle close up looks like.
So when do filmmakers use a wide angle close up?
Slap a wide angle lens on the camera whenever you want to make someone look unusual, odd or unsettling. In Signs (2002), director M Night Shyamalan uses a wide angle close up of Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) when he realises aliens have surrounded his remote farmhouse.
Jean Pierre Jeunet is another director who loves using wide angle lenses to shoot his actors. In Amelie (2001), he used 14, 18, 21, 25 and 27mm lenses to distort and accentuate the unusual facial features of his actors.
Next time you’re going for unusual or quirky, throw a wide angle lens on your camera and get in close!