Videomaker – Learn video production and editing, camera reviews › Forums › General › Video and Film Discussion › Is shallow depth of field being abused?
- June 3, 2012 at 2:26 AM #48429IanParticipant
With the introduction of DSLR cameras with 1080p capability and the ability to shoot within a shallow depth of field available to all, is the affect being over used by videomakers?
Sure the occasional shot where the focus is pulled between an interviewer and interviewee, or foreground and background is great. But with some of the material I have seen lately, both amateur and professional we are being asked to live in a state of electronically induced Glaucoma.
Even some soaps on TV seem to be using the affect unnecessarily.
Much is being said by camera makers about the great advantage of large sensor size and the shallow depth of field capabilities that they bring. That they exist is fine but they shouldn’t be abused. Just like all the transitions available in most editing packages 99% of the time they are not necessary and the simplest looks the best.
I think it all comes down to personal taste and artistic merit. Shallow depth of field sure has it’s place when you want to isolatea a subject or highlight someone or something and have them stand out against a blurred background. I guess it all depends on the type of production you are putting together. In most of my outdoor/adventure videos I strive for the complete opposite by shooting everything with wide-angle lenses where I can obtain maximum depth of field. It’s a look I like, but I guess that’s just my ‘style’.
Like any other fad or special effect or unusual or unique or well-received change in film and video production (anybody remember the transitions that marked a product derived from the Amiga Toaster-Flyer?, especially the TinkerBell effect or the falling sheep transition? Baaaaaadddd.) they quickly become overused and clich.
Strobe anyone? A bouquet of red roses and everything else in black and white? Slow motion?
Sure, there’s potential for and professionally “artistic” applications and maybe some merit, but I suspect it’s more to do with personal taste and subjectivity than any applicable creative element. Like the transitions in slide shows that “professionals” abhor but many of my clients LOVE, Wayne puts it so aptly when stating “personal tastes” and I like your comment too, Wayne, regarding “the complete opposite” with full DOF.
Any of the things that have come and gone, or still appear on occasion, are good things when applied sparingly. When the big to do about DOF with the new acquisition tools came about I thought to myself that we were going to see a LOT of shallow DOF. Right!
The biggest problem in the realm of videography today is often the almost total lack of awareness or appreciation for the nearly 100 years of motion picture practice, craftsmanship and artistry upon which our art and industry has been built. Many would-be videographers of my acquaintance have never seen a film by George Melies, Luis Bunuel, Francois Truffaut or Akira Kurosawa, to name but a few; have never studied the editing or writing of people such as Thelma Schoonmaker and Walter Murch and are unfamiliar with the fundamentals of cinematography outlined in Mascelli’s “The 5 C’s of Cinematography.”
Film makers developed a language of film, a set of conventions which film viewers came to understand as they understood the language of printed text. There’s nothing intuitive about the significance of a cut or jump cut, a dissolve, a flashback or a rack focus, for example. Viewers learned to “read” the vocabulary of film, came to understand that a dissolve typically meant a shift in location or time. They didn’t sit in the theatre and think “Oh, now we’re in another place.” But they understood that’s what it signified.
Children have to learn this language. When “I Spy” appeared on TV a swish-pan was used to indicate a change in place. I remember sitting in a room with my young son, watching the first episode. He could make no sense out of the rapid pan. It was a new word in his film vocabulary and its meaning had to be explained. He didn’t understand that it signified a compression of time and space; only that when you saw this “word” it meant people were somewhere else now.
The excessive use of blurred out backgrounds that we see today in many videos introduces a sound in the vocabulary that often has no meaning. Just like Earl’s example of the desaturated wedding shot in which the bride and groom turn black and white and the bouquet of roses stays red, I’m left to wonder why the videographer has chosen to throw most of the scene out of focus. What, I wonder, is this trying to tell me? What does it mean? Does it have a purpose with regard to the storytelling? All too often the response from the videographer is “It really looks cool.” Frankly, that’s not enough for me!
In the long run, I think it’s more than a question of personal taste: choices we make in film and video ultimately have meaning, whether its choices in shooting and composition, editing or audio. They’re either clear or muddled; they advance the story or throw it off track. As a viewer, choices either pull me further into the piece or force me out of it. Any time I’m confronted with a technical device I’m forced to leave the story and consider the contrivance. This includes falling sheep, weird transitions, rack focus that wrenches me from one character to another and, the gimmick de jour, characters who live in an out-of-focus world with bubble-wrap backgrounds.
Used carefully, and with purpose, shallow depth of field has its place. Used as we more often than not see it today it a distraction without meaning or purpose, used because the DSLR camera can do it.
Jack! Hear! Hear!
I have to second Jack as well. I got a lot out of the 5’C’s book and have always been a fan of older movies. They had to get by on something other than special effects back then. I’m a huge fan of Vincent Price movies and have been since I was a kid, also a huge Hitchcock fan. I really believe just about anyone could watch these types of films and see how camera tools were used to convey an emotion or even words.
I believe DOF has been misunderstood for its ability to draw attention to something and is greatly being used as a pop culture quality to “Eliminate” rather than draw attention. The caveat is the use of backgrounds and the rest of your environment is lost as being part of telling the story or setting mood so to speak. For a film that’s like cutting off your nose despite your face and in DV it becomes as annoying as shaky footage at times. If nothing else, its over use eliminates the ability to use it correctly as that will no longer have the effect that it should.