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Meaning & Depth of Field


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#1 Steven Fleming

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Posted 30 October 2007 - 11:39 PM

Hi there, my name?s Steve & I?m a film student in Perth, Australia and I have a question to ask related to my graduating project and would greatly appreciate anyone?s input.

Depth of field is known to be used for isolating objects and subjects that we wish the spectator to attend to, or conversely ignore- which could be regarded as a purely formalistic approach.

However an extremely shallow depth of field might also be used to indicate character cognisance, for example as in cate Shortland's ?Somersault?, or as a means of conveying character through symbolism as in Terance malick's ?Thin Red Line?-(Colonel Tall [Nick Nolte] often had objects and actions depicted behind him in soft focus that emphasised his emotional state).

I?m wondering if anyone has employed specific strategies using depth of field to convey meaning beyond the merely formalistic?

Cheers
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 31 October 2007 - 12:13 AM

I don't know if you'd call it formalistic, but deep focus can allow multiple points of interest to be in visual juxtaposition to each other, for symbolic effect or to create visual tension. It's the opposite of isolation, but integration or juxtaposition (as I said).

Shallow focus may suggest a certain dreamlike state (but then, so could deep focus). Shallow focus may also require more edits in the sequence, to show select story elements in focus by cutting to them, and therefore may enhance a certain fragmented visual style that mimics the psychological state of the character.
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#3 Chris Keth

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Posted 31 October 2007 - 12:14 AM

I contend that depth of field can easily be considered realistic as well as a useful formalist tool. ;)

It's tough to see but your own eyes do exhibit limited depth of field. Put your hand up about a foot in front of you. Now notice the background without taking your focus from your hand. The background is defocused.
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#4 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 31 October 2007 - 03:13 PM

I contend that depth of field can easily be considered realistic as well as a useful formalist tool. ;)

It's tough to see but your own eyes do exhibit limited depth of field. Put your hand up about a foot in front of you. Now notice the background without taking your focus from your hand. The background is defocused.


"Depth of field" is a neutral term. It needs to be specified as shallow or deep or anything inbetween.
Yet it seems to automatically be used here as shallow focus.

One's vision and eyes do not work exactly as a lens and camera do.

While one will get shallow depth of field at one foot, one will get greater depth of field at four feet.
If one stares at an object long enough, near or far, the surounding field will fade away, yet not really be noticed.

The mind can be selective in ways a lens and camera cannot be.
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#5 Steven Fleming

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Posted 01 November 2007 - 06:59 AM

Cheers for all your comments. All 3 have confirmed something i was trying to devise. I'm seeking to build an argument that shallow depth of field combined with Close-ups particularly of fingers, enhance spectator identification with character as this type of vision allows for an embodied sensation of touch, along the lines of Vivian Sobchack's theory.

The shallow depth i think resembles that kind psychological introspection of the thousand yard stare variety. especially in CU and XCU, a kind of 'relaxed mind'. especially in combination with shots of touching. which is the realism that u mention Chris, an embodied realism that as you say David, 'mimics the psychological state of the character'.

And as you say Leo 'The mind can be selective in ways a lens and camera cannot be' which is where shot choice comes in.

Thank you all gents, for your comments, would you mind if i included this post in my essay?

Regards Steve
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#6 John Sprung

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Posted 01 November 2007 - 02:24 PM

It's tough to see but your own eyes do exhibit limited depth of field. Put your hand up about a foot in front of you. Now notice the background without taking your focus from your hand. The background is defocused.

To see what DOF you get with your eyes, you have to use them one at a time. The actual DOF is quite large. The range of stops available is only about f/2 to f/8.

The main thing that's going on when we look around in the real world is that we converge two eyes, and can only deal adequately with objects near that distance. Do the above test with both eyes open, and with one eye at a time. You'll see that binocular vision, not DOF, is the main limiting factor.




-- J.S.
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#7 A. Whitehouse

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Posted 01 November 2007 - 05:14 PM

Hi Steven (not the NZ Cricket captain I guess?),
If you're in Perth then you should have access to some of the contemporary Australian shorts that are floating around out there. The shots and short DOF which your essay is about is a fixture of modern Australian short films. There should be lots of resources for you to draw from, its a national obsession. I'm in Melbourne.
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#8 Steven Fleming

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Posted 01 November 2007 - 11:55 PM

Hi Steven (not the NZ Cricket captain I guess?),
If you're in Perth then you should have access to some of the contemporary Australian shorts that are floating around out there. The shots and short DOF which your essay is about is a fixture of modern Australian short films. There should be lots of resources for you to draw from, its a national obsession. I'm in Melbourne.

G'day, A. (Adam, Andrew?)
No not THAT Steve Fleming, i wish i had 1/2 his talent though. Should be a good Summer, the WACA's got its bounce back!
Ahem! Depth of Field...

I hadn't noticed that shallow depth was a patriotic trait! Of course now I'll be looking even harder. I wish I was floating in locally produced short films, but they ain't so easy to get hold of (for further scrutiny) once they've been screened @ festivals. I'd appreciate any direction to sites that host specifically Oz based material.

Could an introspective shallow depth reflect that much vaunted 'search for national identity' that Australian films are supposedly engaged in? I think I'll leave that for Honours.

Cheers for your comment, it's got me thinkin'.
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#9 A. Whitehouse

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Posted 03 November 2007 - 04:55 PM

Alexander, but everyone calls me Sasha.
Yeah should be a good summer, I'm a Kiwi in Melbourne so I can expect more middling finishes from the team. After last summers whupping of Aus I expect they'll come out swinging and clean the floor with New Zealand.
Off the top of my head the two shorts which you might benefit from seeing are probably "Crossbow" and "End of Town". They might be available out your way but the other way to get them would be to get hold of them through the Melbourne Film Festival, where they both screened. There are many more and it might be best to target Directors and DPs who work in that style. Look for anything shot by Greg Fraiser (have a look at the Cannes winning "Cracker bag") and while I don't know if hes shot any shorts I'm fond of commercials shot by a guy called Bob Humphries; he works in a similar style. These are just what comes to mind, there are many, many more.
Australian cinema had a cinematic identity in the 70s and 80s but as private investment collapsed (the end of 10ba) and film makers became reliant on state funding agencies there was a shift towards Australian naturalism which neither the Australian public or an international audience were that interested in. Whatever happened to genre film making in Australia? I like some of the new stuff I see but mostly it comes off as well intentioned, well made, well performed and directed, television. It just kind of falls flat on the big screen. In search of an identity perhaps but there might not be an audience left to watch it. Just saw Jesse James last night, wouldn't it be great if he came back to Melbourne to make a film again...
Sorry about my off-topic rambling; I'm just a punk kid from NZ who loves older Australian films.
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#10 Steven Fleming

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Posted 08 November 2007 - 05:52 AM

Cheers for all those tips Sasha, Bob Humphreys is already on my list (incidentally he was responsible for Somersault, Suburban Mayhem & Mullet as well as @ least one short that i know of called Flowergirl [dir. Cate Shortland] He also shot a great mini-series [again with Shortland & the magnificent Emily Barclay] called The Silence, his website has an extensive showreel Click here! ) and it looks like I may have to wait for those other shorts you mentioned in the Summer festivals.

I completely agree w/ you re: State suckling of the film "industry" in Oz and am keen to see what the changes brought in in June or July this year will bring about. I noticed in The Australian yesterday an article about Tropfest funding films. Also the FTA w/ USA might see more money coming in this direction. There's nothing worse than parochial films and when its exacerbated by the meddling of bureaucratic Arts-grant leeches working within nationalist parameters to foster "identity"...well i just get so mad. <_<

Obviously our market is just too small to maintain an introspective film club and i reckon that we'll see a return to genre films as producers have to look @ raising capital themselves.

But that's enough ranting!
Still haven't seen Jesse James, next pay for sure...

thanks to all for all yer input!
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