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What would you do without DOF?


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#1 Matthew Bennett

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Posted 17 November 2006 - 09:38 PM

Cinematographers,

What would you do if all your shots had to have infinite DOF? Every area in every shot completely in focus..


Would anyone look forward to this challenge? Is it possible to tell a long-form visual story without DOF??

What do think, anyone?
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#2 Allen Achterberg

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Posted 18 November 2006 - 12:10 AM

Is it possible to tell a long-form visual story without DOF??

What do think, anyone?


Yes, they shoot a lot of independant films on video, like "Open Water" that had infinite focus throughout the film if I recall correctly.
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#3 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 18 November 2006 - 12:41 PM

What would you do if all your shots had to have infinite DOF? Every area in every shot completely in focus..
Would anyone look forward to this challenge? Is it possible to tell a long-form visual story without DOF??


'Citizen Kane' comes close. Kurosawa tried for that.
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#4 Hal Smith

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Posted 18 November 2006 - 01:01 PM

I've really begun to dislike excessive use of shallow DOF. Visually on a large screen it starts to make everything look like a close-up. My eyes are obviously drawn to where the focus is sharpest and nothing else in the frame can be watched. Deep focus combined with expert blocking in a good setting gives my eye a chance to wander around and observe individual aspects of the scene.

This thread has been very educational in improving my thinking about DOF - Gentleman, I thank you!
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#5 Rod Otaviano

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Posted 18 November 2006 - 01:10 PM

'Citizen Kane' comes close. Kurosawa tried for that.


I'd also add Theo Angelopoulous to this list. Watch here some commentaries about his style and why everything in focus is so important to him:



(by the way, this movie "Eternity and a Day" he was talking about won the Palme D'Or in 1998)
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#6 Michael Nash

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Posted 18 November 2006 - 05:59 PM

I think of this every time I use a 1/3" camera! :D

Depth of field is simply a tool to use. It's like saying, "what if you couldn't use color?" There certainly have been many great-looking and well-designed black and white movies...

Aside from using infinite dof for narrative advantage (as has been mentioned), there are still times when you want to "focus" attention to one part of the frame and not everything else. You end up using all the other visual cues to create separation and depth; color, contrast, value, motion, perspective, pattern, etc.

There are hundreds of combinations of theses variables, and you design them into the look and telling of the story. Besides, it's not as though every shot in a 35mm movie has shallow dof. The bulk of shots in many movies/TV shows have lots of detail in the BG. Look at a show like "Law and Order," for example (especially the exteriors).

I tend to use contrast first, making sure there's adequate modeling on my foreground subject, and tone down the contrast of the background if necessary and/or appropriate so that it doesn't "compete" so much. I routinely check for overlapping values; making sure the keyed side of a face or dark hair doesn't blend into a background with the same value. I'll adjust the shot a little so that light overlaps dark and dark overlaps a light or medium value.

I remember reading about when the TV show "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" switched from 16mm to 35mm, the DP had to change his lighting style a little bit. With 16mm he used color to separate foreground and background, and after the switch he had to find a balance between preserving the show's "look" and using the shallower depth of field.
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#7 Keneu Luca

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Posted 18 November 2006 - 08:38 PM

Without shallow DOP, you then of course are left without rack focusing.

I like shots that reveal things from creative economical blocking that allows for racks that kill several birds with one stone, in one shot.
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#8 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 18 November 2006 - 08:45 PM

Everything has its place.

Spielberg uses longer lenses and plays well with DoF, while Terry Gilliam prefers wide angle lenses for the entire frame to be in focus, so WE have the choice of what we want to look at.

Personally, I appreciate both when they're done well.
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#9 Matthew W. Phillips

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Posted 18 November 2006 - 10:34 PM

I have never done a project with shallow DOF and it doesnt bother me. I think many DPs overuse shallow DOF. I love the show Grey's Anatomy, but if you watch it, you will notice how there seems to be overuse of "foreground-background" DOF switching. It almost becomes distracting after awhile...at least to me.
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#10 Trevor Greenfield

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Posted 19 November 2006 - 01:47 AM

"foreground-background" DOF switching.


Because I dont watch the show, can you tell me what you mean by this? They rack focus foreground to back too often?
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#11 Mark Allen

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Posted 20 November 2006 - 06:15 PM

When you remove the depth of field, you are losing your ability to control the eye with focal cues. That doesn't mean you can't use other design techniques. Contrast shaping (using darkness to frame the areas you want to have more focus because our eyes look for lightness), Color shaping (same thing with color contrasting), leading lines (our eyes will follow lines to find a resting point), contrast of motion, etc. Citizen Kane uses very little depth of field but is compensating with a lot of other techniques to help tell the story.

This is something people shooting DV movies without 35mm adapters could make great use of. It would be a combination of efforts between director/dp/production designer.

For a contemporary example, look at the trailer for 300. Not the greatest shot, but one that shows this very clearly is the boat sinking (middle of the trailer). Obviously the shot is about the boat sinking, that's what we need to see. So that's where all the light is. However... apparently it's even more important then that we see this army leader observing the boat sinking. The hottest spot in the fram is the water on his sheild (actually it might be the bald guy at the bottom, but... the lines lead us to the center). The most contrast is him against the water. The triangle lines lead to him, the boat's lines also lead to him. This is all fake, those boats could be put anywhere, but they curve in towards him.

Another example is the early shot of the guys falling off the cliff - note that the sun is directly behind this point of action.


Anyway - so without depth of field I would employ all the other options with even more ferver. But I'm not a DP per se. I would hope a DP would sit down witht he director and explain this and create a plan in the production design to address it.
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#12 Matthew Bennett

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Posted 21 November 2006 - 01:41 PM

Thank you for all your intelligent reponses!

I guess the answer lies in design, line and contrast taking over as the dominant pictorial force.
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#13 Paul Bruening

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Posted 21 November 2006 - 04:36 PM

I waffle back and forth on the DOF issue. Currently, I'm crazy for shallow DOF. Ashamedly, it's a fashion thing for me.
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