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Thread: Using depth of field

  1. #1

    Default Using depth of field

    Is there any kind of what might be called 'artistic rule' regarding depth of field?
    I'm familiar with using depth of field in photography, to throw the background out of focus, if the background is deemed to be irrelevant, but I haven't used it in film making yet.
    My intuition tells me that it can be effective in film making but it's preferable not to over-use the technique, it's preferable to use it sparingly and not shoot every shot or every other shot this way.
    Any thoughts on this, anyone?
    In photography, I'd use an aperture of f5.6 or maybe f4 to throw the background out of focus, but this isn't important, I can just experiment with my camcorder.

  2. #2


    In the right place at the right time it can look good. When is it right ? I can't say it's, one of those thing which either is or isn't. As a director you can feel it creates an intimate feeling if that's what's wanted in the movie. The Director and DoP will decide it's right for this or that, there is much discussion in this forum about it's over use due to the DSLR video fad being able to shoot just about anything and everything with a Shallow depth of field. I suspect when cameras like the F100 etc. with interchangeable lens are more common, we may even see more of it, I don't know. I know I like to use it when I can but I have to be able to do a particular shot to be able to achieve it with my camera. It's that illusive "cinema look" that a lot of videographers strive for.

    It adds another dimension to your filming and this for me is the crucial point, it is just one of many tools in the tool box and just as you don't use a hammer to put in a screw you shouldn't use shallow depth of field all the time but when hammering nails use a hammer.

  3. #3


    Thanks, Midnight, I particularly liked this part of your response, it's given me a lot to think about:
    It's that illusive "cinema look" that a lot of videographers strive for.

  4. #4


    Here is an intersting view I read on another video forum:

    I used to have a 35mm SLR camera with an f1.2 prime lens which produced incredibly shallow depth of field when wide open. I loved the differential focus effects I could achieve but you wouldn't believe the complaints I used to get because "parts of the picture were out of focus".

    Then I started shooting video and as the sensors got smaller, the depth of field increased until eventually almost everything was in focus from the front element to infinity - at last the holy grail of wall-to-wall sharpness had been achieved!
    So, now we have high-definition cameras capable of incredible detail but suddenly everyone wants most of the picture all blurry again... I give up!

  5. #5


    Hee hee that's human nature for you - never satisfied.
    Watching the ITV psycho drama series 'Marchland' last night, I noticed that there was just one shot where the background was out of focus, a shot of a guy walking along a lane with some houses in the background. The houses weren't particularly relevant to the storyline, so it seems that in film making, as in photography, relevance is the factor, or a factor.
    The trouble with this idea is, what is relevant to a storyline? Every piece of furniture (for example) in every film set is irrelevant to the storyline, but they don't shoot every piece of furniture out of focus.
    I suspect that shooting a scene out of focus is a kind of novelty, to add interest...
    Last edited by snapper1; 03-04-2011 at 09:33 AM.

  6. #6


    Quote Originally Posted by snapper1 View Post
    Every piece of furniture (for example) in every film set is irrelevant to the storyline, but they don't shoot every piece of furniture out of focus.
    That depends on the background and the situation. If you've spent a fortune on a set, I'm sure the producer would want to be able to see it. Sometimes it is an important part of the movie, especially in period pieces as it helps to sell the fact that it's the 1900's or 1960 or 2050 or when ever.

    As you say it's often about relevance and when used in a clever way, about how a scene feels, I.E. an intimate meal in a restraint is an ideal time to shoot with a shallow DoF as it creates a feel of intimacy, it takes away the back ground that could be distracting. It would be nice to have the lenses to be able to shoot exactly how you want in all situations but at our level we often have to compromise due to cost.

    You said in your first post about using DoF in photography, well video is photography, it's just of a moving media so the same rules apply I suppose.

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