Controlling Depth of Field

Controlling Depth of Field

I suppose we all look at the world through the lens of our own experience. Coming from a stills background I find depth of field (DOF) critical in photography. In film it is a little more subtle because our mind is drawn to the story so completely (when done right) that we don’t notice the impact of music, sound effects, and DOF have on the story-telling. Case in point my little commercial on bike repair for Reser Bicycle.

I have 3 shots from this TV spot I did that demonstrate proper DOF and how it is used to tell the story. First one is where Katie & Jess are talking on the flood wall looking into Cincinnati. (Note the images link to 1920 HD images, frame grabs from the original footage.)

In this case I wanted the audience to focus on the actors, but I also wanted the audience to recognize the Cincinnati skyline. I threw the skyline a bit out of focus so the attention was on the actors but the background was still just clear enough to recognize. The idea was to make this TV commercial to stick out as locally done commercially in order to grab more attention from the viewer. Shown during the Tour de France, all the other commercials were large corporate spots like the Cadillac who was one of the main sponsors, so I definitely wanted the local link.

This would be impossible with a video camera, everything would be in focus. I was using the Canon 5D Mark II, and normally it would also be impossible. It was so sunny, even at 100 ISO I had to stop the 5D down to F.22. That ruined any depth of field control. So to make this shot happen I used a Fader ND variable neutral density filter. This kind of problem is not an issue for a stills guy because you just crank up the shutter speed to the max 1/8000 on the 5D and no problem. But in video mode you shoot at 1/60 of a second to get the 180º shutter with 30p that YouTube prefers and broadcasters use for HDTV.

The Fader ND enabled me to dial in the DOF I needed. (BTW be careful in shopping for Fader NDs, some are junk. Get the glass ones made in Japan, not plastic Chinese types.)

The next shot from the same commercial had a completely different objective:

Depth of Field Closeup Jess Linz

This shot had to completely focus on the interaction between Jess (facing) and Katie. So I wanted the background blurred out as much as possible. The Fader ND did the trick. I was able to open the lens wide. You can see a little fill light provided by a reflector on the right side of Jess’s face. (Thanks Jason for holding it.)

The last shot was on the purple people bridge and I wanted maximum depth of field:

Purple People Bridge Cincinnati Skyline Depth of Field

I wanted the Western Southern Life building (then under construction) and the rest of the purple people bridge to be in focus to bring the viewer back into focus that this is a local commercial. This frame grab also has a lovely motion blur due to the speed of the 2 cyclists that contributes to the motion effect.

So three examples of depth of field control, all made possible on the Canon 5D Mark II only with the help of the Fader ND variable neutral density filter. You can see the 30 second spot here on YouTube. (View in HD for best results.)

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