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depth of field in the composition


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#1 Jim Nelson

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Posted 01 August 2010 - 10:57 PM

Hi,

I have a question regarding the use of depth of field in the composition of a shot.

There are shots (for example close ups) where we focus on a character and the background is so out of focus that we can't tell what it is. And there are other shots where the background is out of focus but we can still get an idea of where the character is/what's behind him. Does this have an effect on the message the shot is trying to convey?

I know that we use shallow depth of field so that we are not distracted by unecessary elements in the frame, but what if we can still kind of tell what those elements are even though we used shallow depth of field? Does that have an effect on the message of the shot?



Thanks for your help :)
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#2 Kyle Reid

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Posted 02 August 2010 - 01:36 AM

It would be hard to create a fast formula that would spew out how much or how little the audience was paying attention to the out of focus elements in the frame depending on how out of focus they were. Although with that being said, in comparison to a completely unintelligible background to one that can be understood, it seems likely ( with all things else equal) that the more readable background would have a higher chance of drawing more attention. However, I don't think it's something you can expect to put into practice and show off traceable results. Anyhow, to me, limiting focus is the probably least creative way to give an impression of 3 dimensions in cinema, but oddly enough the only one inherent to photography, go figure.
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#3 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 02 August 2010 - 03:49 AM

A shallow depth of field tends to be more isolating, which perhaps why it worked on the last episode of "House" where they used the 5D. How large a DOF you use depends on the story you're telling and the interaction of the characters and their environment or world. These other elements can be extremely important. If the film is say about a group, having a very shallow DOF could give the impression that the members are alienated from each other if it's used all the time.

Some people are rather loose in calling something a "good" DOF. If you're the 1st AC you may regard "good" is enough to achieve a high percentage of sharp shots. Whereas, if you've got a shallow DOF fetish it has to be f1.2 with only the eyes sharp. The other weird use is "better", which I take really means appropriate rather than "shallow" - you usually don't want a shallow DOF on a model shot for example.

There could an element of more stills photographers coming into film & TV and wanting the DOF you get from full frame 35mm stills cameras, plus a reaction against the deeper focus on 1/3" cameras that many have had to use in recent years.
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#4 Jim Nelson

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Posted 02 August 2010 - 02:18 PM

I'm sorry it's still a bit confusing to me :(

For example, in the following shots of The Dark Knight. In the 1st shot we can tell that there's a guy behind the Joker even though he is out of focus. In the 2nd shot, the background is completely out of focus and we can't tell what it is. Does this have an effect on the message/purpose of the shot? If so what is it? In other words, in the 1st shot does the guy behind the Joker have an importance/do we have to look at him too? And in the 2nd shot is the background not important at all since it's completely blurry?


Thanks :)

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#5 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 02 August 2010 - 02:23 PM

Well, shot 1 clearly has the BG person doing something, whereas in Shot 2 you want to focus in on what's happening between the two people.
I think you're over-analyzing things. Our eyes look to whats in focus, and/or what's brightest; given a scene with something sharp in focus we'll look at that unless disturbed by movement or something "new" being added to the scene. In the first shot, though I can't exactly recall what's happening, there is a heist going on, so you have one person who you are focusing on for whatever reason, and someone else who is either doing something related to that, or who is going to take focus away from that. In the second shot, you have an "intimate," though not "nice" moment between two main-ish characters squaring off and you want to really draw attention to the screen chemistry of the scene, hence the shot size and the choice to have a background which informs where they are (at the party still) yet doesn't detract from what they are doing.

I suggest you watch a lot of movies and just keep track of when and how DoF is being used to control where you are looking (or where others around you are looking. I often watch people with me watching films to see what they're focusing on, and how they react to things (facial expressions they give off).)
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#6 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 02 August 2010 - 03:07 PM

You should also compare deep focus shots as well, soft backgrounds can used to isolate a character or create planes of focus giving the impression of space, by looking at the opposite you can make a better judgement. Citizen Kane is the classic for deep focus, Gregg Toland used it on a number of his films.

http://en.wikipedia....wiki/Deep_focus
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#7 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 02 August 2010 - 03:34 PM

Definitally also look @ Deep focus, and going off of Brian a bit, I feel in deep focus shots you can isolate a character even further by keeping him/her alone in a tack sharp world (though a lot has to do with framing in those instances).
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#8 Ben Brahem Ziryab

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 02:58 PM

It doesn't mean anything in particularly. The main difference is that the second shot is tighter, with a deeper focus on the first. [IN #1] The second gunman is somewhere involved in the story (as Adrian mentions the shot is showing what's happening with the two people) and as part of the coverage, he's has been included in the frame.
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#9 Jim Nelson

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Posted 07 August 2010 - 09:56 PM

Thank you very much for your help.

You said: "Our eyes look to whats in focus, and/or what's brightest; given a scene with something sharp in focus we'll look at that unless disturbed by movement or something "new" being added to the scene." Does this mean that if there's something bright or if something moves in the out of focus part of the shot, will we be distracted by that or will we be distracted by it only if it's in focus?



Thank you so much for all your help :)
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#10 Remsy Atassi

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Posted 08 August 2010 - 01:44 PM

Those photos from The Dark Knight may not be the best examples because they are from the IMAX passages of the film, so they are shallower by necessity. I find the constant use of shallow DOF and long lenses to be pretty distracting but there is an obvious element of personal preference.

As mentioned by someone already, the limitation of DOF in 1/3 inch cameras has resulted in overuse with the new possibilities of DSLRs. In time I'm sure it will wear off.
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#11 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 08 August 2010 - 01:55 PM

You said: "Our eyes look to whats in focus, and/or what's brightest; given a scene with something sharp in focus we'll look at that unless disturbed by movement or something "new" being added to the scene." Does this mean that if there's something bright or if something moves in the out of focus part of the shot, will we be distracted by that or will we be distracted by it only if it's in focus?


If the sharp subject isn't moving your eye could go to a softer (focus wise) movement. It mightn't be a distraction, perhaps it could be something that the on screen character is oblivious to, but the director is carefully introducing to the audience some new element that could play out later in the scene.
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#12 heru darmawan

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Posted 02 September 2010 - 11:28 AM

A shallow depth of field tends to be more isolating, which perhaps why it worked on the last episode of "House" where they used the 5D. How large a DOF you use depends on the story you're telling and the interaction of the characters and their environment or world. These other elements can be extremely important. If the film is say about a group, having a very shallow DOF could give the impression that the members are alienated from each other if it's used all the time.

Some people are rather loose in calling something a "good" DOF. If you're the 1st AC you may regard "good" is enough to achieve a high percentage of sharp shots. Whereas, if you've got a shallow DOF fetish it has to be f1.2 with only the eyes sharp. The other weird use is "better", which I take really means appropriate rather than "shallow" - you usually don't want a shallow DOF on a model shot for example.

There could an element of more stills photographers coming into film & TV and wanting the DOF you get from full frame 35mm stills cameras, plus a reaction against the deeper focus on 1/3" cameras that many have had to use in recent years.


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