Whether you’re tuning in from far away or just next door, it’s a pleasure to have you reading once again. As promised in last week’s article, this week we’ll be discussing some very important points to remember as far as your camera is concerned. Now bear in mind that I will not be covering every little detail. Originally I had planned a whole slew of articles covering how to properly do this, or tweak that. The trouble was that since every camera and every lens is a little different, it becomes impossible for me to make recommendations in that way. So I’ve decided to hit on some tips and tricks for universally relevant topics. Today’s topic is Depth of Field, or focal depth, and how to make it work for you.
In the most basic sense, focal depth refers to how much of your shot is in focus. If you consider how a camera focuses, you tell it what to focus on either manually, or by letting automated sensors detect where that will be. Before I delve deeper into focal depth, let’s pause for a moment and I’ll give you an extra tip. If you’re on sticks (a tripod), and the shot isn’t moving… never use Auto Focus. You’re asking for trouble later with that as some movement by the talent could cause the camera to go fishing for focus for no reason, causing the shot to look bad, and you to look worse. Spend the extra time, and punch in to get the focus manually.
But getting back on track, focal depth refers to the amount of the shot that is focus between the closest and furthest object in the shot. A deep depth of field means much more of your frame will be in focus, while a shallow depth of field will have very little apart from where you set the focus. There is a lot that this allows for when it comes to framing. In film making, deep focal depth can be used to showcase the character and their environment, crowd shots, and other shots where the whole frame is relevant. Shallow depth is meant to isolate the importance of the point of focus.
So how is this relevant to an interview? Simply put, the entire look and feel of your interview really begins and ends with how much focal depth you chose to use. If you want the focus to be solely on your speaker, and the space isn’t important, a shallower depth is more appropriate. It draws attention to the talent, as they’re the only piece of the frame that is in focus. Conversely, if the place in which your talent is speaking is particularly relevant to the topic of the video, a deeper depth is more appropriate. As we said, that deeper focus allows a subconscious connection between our speaker and the space.
The harder of the two is getting shallow depth to turn out well. Since less is in focus, you have a larger margin of error for when something can slip in or out of that range. In this case, if your talent is more animated with their gestures or posture, they could lean in and out of focus. The obvious solution is to increase your focal depth to allow for this, but there is a tradeoff. It means more of your background may begin to sharpen up. In this case, you can either live with that truth, or you can move your talent. Moving them away from the wall will allow you to increase your depth, while the move will increase the distance between them and that background, giving you more depth to play with.
Another trick is to remember that zooming can also affect your shot. By pulling the camera away from the talent, you can zoom in to keep the actor at roughly the same placement in the frame, while keeping that background out of focus. This happens because you are keeping the depth at about the same level, but you are simply moving where the camera is looking for focus within that horizontal “near vs far” range. By moving the camera back, you effectively refocus further away, which moves your depth of focus further away from the lens.
There’s no correct answer as it all pertains to your preferred style and look for the video, and of course what gear you have access to. Each will have a distinctly different feel to the trained eye. In either case it is important to remember that the spacial relationship between the talent and the background, as well as that of the talent and the camera will greatly determine how your shot looks. Don’t be afraid to play with those variables. While you may not know what those distances will need to be, it’s more important to recognize those variables exist. I encourage each of you to get out and play with those elements and see how your shot changes.
Until next time!