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What is Shallow Depth of Field and how is it used?

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

If you have your interest in photography or cinematography, you might be aware of the different tips and tricks out there that you can use to make your images or videos more powerful. Cinematic effects in a video add so much more value and meaning to a shot. This blog post covers a shot technique known as the 'Shallow Focus' or 'Shallow Depth of Field'.

What is Shallow Depth of Field?

The Shallow focus is one of the most commonly used techniques in filming. This happens when there is a narrow or thin depth of field. It can sound a little confusing, but if you're well aware of aperture's functions and depth of field, it'll be relatively simpler to understand and finally master.

Aperture is the lens setting that impacts the depth of field because it controls the opening and closing of the lens. What is depth of field? It's the area of the image that appears sharp in front and behind the main subject. Essentially, the depth of field refers to how blurry or sharp the area around your subjects appears on the camera. Increasing the aperture or decreasing the f-stop can help to achieve the shallow depth of field. Sometimes, we can also achieve this effect by changing the camera's distance and the subject and adjusting the focal length accordingly.

If the camera is closer to the subject in question, parts of the image will be blurred, resulting in a smaller depth of field, or narrower area of focus. Similarly, a longer focal length, can also create background blur. - StudioBinder

Another thing to bear in mind while trying to achieve shallow focus is that the more we increase our aperture, the more light enters the lens - which means, you might have to play with your ISO and/or shutter speed to make sure your image isn't too bright. The closer your subject is to the camera, the shallower your depth of field will be - because this creates a blur in the background and allows more focus on your subject.

For better shallow focus, if you have a longer lens, you have yourself an advantage. Longer lenses allow shallower depth of field. If your camera can interchange lenses, 85mm is a long enough lens for capturing shots with shallow focus.

What is Shallow Depth of Field used for?

In cinematography, shallow depth of field is used for a variety of reasons like:

  1. Keeping the foreground in focus

  2. Creating focus around a single subject (as emphasis)

  3. Also used to attract the audience towards a particular element in a scene or setting by bringing it to clear focus.

Film-makers tend to use this shot to make something stand out. Usually, this shot is seen when a director of the film emphasizes a particular aesthetic or character in the setting. When the aesthetics of a specific subject are the most primary focus of the shot, we get to experience the shallow depth of field shot's uses.

We want viewers to be attracted to the object or subject as opposed to anywhere else on the scene. This is very prominent for an interview, so it's important to understand how to frame an interview. - StudioBinder

It's a beautiful technique that helps explain to the audience an essential part of the shot. When you highlight one point in the image and softly blur the rest of the composition, we can add weight to the shot.

I use shallow depth of field to isolate my subject from the background and the foreground. It helps me drive the viewers' eyes to my subjects and gives me better control that absolutely helps my storytelling. Plus I also use it for beauty product shots because I can achieve the cinematic sweet bokeh look that is creamy and eye-candy-ish for the viewer. - Jasem Al Muhanna, Director, Cinemagic.

At Cinemagic, we believe that motion pictures have the power to humanize, educate, promote, and do so much more.

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