Depth of Field
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The state of the art
Large image-sensor cameras like the Canon 5D Mark II allow for an incredibly shallow depth of field, meaning while your subject is in focus, everything else is blurry. That effect happens naturally in our eyes when we look at a scene in the real world that has both near and far features. Reproducing that in film creates a satisfyingly realistic feeling of depth and 3D-ness in an otherwise flat movie image. Making movies seem more realistic and immersive is generally a plus in filmmaking.
Most of the video cameras of the past five decades have had very small image sensors which keep almost everything in focus, giving what some people despair as the “soap opera” or “news” look. Soap Operas and news adopted video technology early on to accommodate fast production turnarounds, while serial TV shows and movies could afford to wait for film developing. The area that captures the image on 35mm film is about ten times bigger than the image sensors in most video cameras of the late 20th Century, which had a big effect on depth of field.
So, having an affordable video camera that could create a shallow depth-of-field was a long-awaited feature, and has sparked the latest revolution in independent filmmaking.
That being said, the mediasphere has become saturated with shallow-depth-of-field videography. Personally, I still think it is an enriching feature, but if you’ve grown tired of it, don’t despair. Remember that one of the reasons to use that technique is to create an inviting, immmersive sense of depth. Fortunately there are other ways to do that.
Employ deep staging, in which there are several elements in the scene that capture the viewer’s attention.
Use lighting sources that divide the foreground and background so that the scene looks realistic and deep.
Use elements and lines in the composition of the scene that draw the viewer’s attention through the plane of the film into the scene.
And last but not least, immersion is a stylistic choice. There may be a reason that you want to create a flattened scene: to convey how two-dimensional a character’s world is, or allude to another medium that is actually flat. The point is to have the tools to evoke the feeling you want to convey. The Secret of Kells is an animated movie that uses illustrations evocative of The Book of Kells, an 8th century Celtic illuminated manuscript.
The video in this article is an introduction to some of the principles of Depth of Field, lenses, light, and composition.
Thanks for tuning in.