No matter what kind of film or video production you’re working on, using a shallow depth of field can make things a little more interesting.
A shallow depth of field just means that only a small part of what’s on screen is in focus while everything else isn’t.
As longtime NY and NJ video production vets, trust us, it’s not just a great way to help emphasize what you want viewers to take notice of and focus on, but also to add a little extra visual flair and dimension to your videos and to let the viewer know that you know what you’re doing.
Why is a shallow DOF so effective?
Playing with the depth of field has been an important part of cinematography for a long time, no matter if we’re talking corporate or commercial video production or feature filmmaking.
And while using a deep depth of field has its purposes — think long shots in which you want to keep everything in the frame in sharp focus — a shallow depth of field showcases a bit more of the creative side. After all, what you put in focus, just like where you put your camera, is a creative decision.
And yes, it allows you to direct the viewer’s focus where you want it and to remove any potential distractions. Whether it’s a subject or an object you want them to concentrate on, a shallow depth of field allows you to do it.
However, we’ve been in NJ / NY video production long enough to know that a shallow DOF is also an important tool when it comes to setting a mood or creating a somewhat otherworldly feeling.
Think about those gorgeous shallow DOF shots looking down a crowded city street, the lights blurred so that it all becomes one fuzzy, beautiful background, allowing your subject to be the prominent element of the frame.
A shallow depth of field also opens the door to the rack focus, another important part of any cinematographer’s arsenal. This is when you shift focus from one subject or object to another, reversing what’s in focus and what’s out.
Again, it’s a great way to control the viewer’s attention and to direct it to the part of the frame where you want it to be when you want it to be there.
How do you achieve it?
It’s like they say, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and when it comes to achieving a shallow depth of field in your film or video productions, you have a few options.
First off, you can zoom in, which will narrow the depth of field. However, it can become a challenge in tight spaces. You can also get closer to the subject and leave a good amount of space between the subject and the background as well as other elements in the frame.
Another option is to open up your aperture, lowering your f-stop number, but remember, this will affect your exposure. You may need to think about tweaking your lighting after.
That’s where neutral density filters come into play. They attach to the lens and cut down the overall light, allowing you to shoot at wide apertures even on bright, sunny days.
You can also make a lens switch. While it’s possible to achieve a shallow DOF with a wide lens and a lower focal length, it’s a lot easier to do it with a longer lens, so go with something like an 85mm instead.
Some tips for working with a shallow DOF…
First of all, DSLRs are known for their ability to achieve a range of depths, so if you know you’re going to want to achieve a shallow depth of field in certain shots and a DSLR’s an option, you may want go that route.
Also, if it’s a human subject in a shot in which you’re using a shallow DOF, then it’s often a good idea to focus on the eyes; if they’re soft, it won’t go unnoticed by viewers, which leads us to our next tip.
We’ve created some beautiful images with shallow depths of field in our time in NY and NJ video production, and those tiny LCD monitors that come on many cameras nowadays may not cut it when you’re trying to create those kinds of images on your films or commercial or corporate video productions.
You may want to spring for a separate, larger monitor. Not only will you get an enhanced view of the shot, but these types of monitors often come with built-in focus assistance.
Another helpful tool is a follow focus assist, which is one of those little wheels that attaches to your lens, allowing you to make precise adjustments to your focus mid shot.
It’s about more than simply directing attention.
The bottom line is, a shallow depth of field can add dynamism and interest to the shots in your film or video productions.
While it’s a highly effective tool when it comes to directing the viewer’s attention to the part of the screen where you want it, a shallow DOF can do a whole lot more than that.
It can set a certain mood, create a certain energy. There’s an almost dreamlike quality to many shots that use a shallow depth of field effectively.
And as far as actually achieving a shallow DOF, there are several options. So, no matter the camera you’re using, the location you’re shooting in, etc., you can find a way to make it happen.
Just remember, certain cameras are inherently better for creating the look than others, and if your subject is human, you may want to focus on the eyes.
From there, keep in mind that there are tools available to make it easier to play with the depth of field without sacrificing the quality of your work.
About KVibe Productions: KVibe, a leader in the NJ / NY video production industry for years, offers the complete package of video production services. Whether you need a web promo video, a commercial, a corporate video, or a feature film, KVibe can take you every step of the way. At KVibe, we create to inspire.