5 Tips for Better Focus!
Keeping sharp focus can be pretty tricky, but it’s absolutely essential for a professional video or film project. Most indie filmmakers now have access to cameras with large (APS-C, 35mm or full-frame 35mm) sensors, which can have very shallow depth of field. The shallow-depth-of-field look has been much sought-after in indie projects, as we always associated it with “big budget” theatrical movies. As HD sensors got larger, over the past 15 years, they completely transformed the look of “low-budget movies.”
Keeping It Sharp
Whether you are a director, cinematographer, camera operator, or a camera assistant, in low-budget filmmaking you may find yourself needing to pull focus at some point.
A seasoned focus puller, trained on 35mm film cameras, had no problem jumping into focus pulling on a 35mm digital sensor. However, in this age of accessible, professional, large-sensor cameras, novice camera assistants and aspiring videographers are challenged to achieve the shallow-depth-of-field look right from the start. The truth is it can be very challenging to pull focus! The opportunities to apprentice under a seasoned 1st AC are not common enough to meet the needs of all the new filmmakers honing their skills, around the country.
From a director or cinematographer’s perspective, sometimes the focus challenge isn’t just about the skill of pulling focus. Sometimes the challenge lies in designing a shot that is both dynamic and achievable. To do this, you must understand Depth of Field.
5 Tips For Better Focus
Here are 5 tips you can immediately apply to your productions to get sharper focus!
- Use a Measuring Tape and Practice! Until you get really great with guessing distances, break out your measuring tape! Then, practice! On set, don’t wait for an official rehearsal. If you saw the blocking, and you know where the actors and camera are supposed to move, then you can get ballpark marks for focus and even practice the muscle memory of your pull by yourself! That way, when you get to the official rehearsal, you’ll be ahead of the game and if they decide to “shoot the rehearsal,” you’ll be ready!
- Go Wide. Use a wide angle lens, or put more distance between the camera and your subject. Both, wide lenses and increased focal distance will give you more DOF (less shallow, more stuff in focus)
- Stop Down. You need proper exposure, but if the DOF is too shallow, consider making adjustments so that you can close down your iris. Move the action to a place with more light, or use a larger light, or move the light closer. You could also increase your ISO and stop down.
- Move the Camera and Subject, Together. For a “walk and talk” or other traveling shot, if you keep the distance between the camera and your actors the same, they will stay in focus! This is helpful for all movement: jib, dollies, handheld, steadicam, movie, you name it!
- Double Check on a Monitor. Watch playback to check for critical focus. Make sure your focus puller has their own onboard monitor, BUT, you don’t want them to pull focus from the monitor unless you are in an impossible situation (and the Director and DP are ok with focus going & out during the shot). Practice pulling “by eye” (based on measured distances) and using the onboard monitor to spot check, get focus marks, and for self-motivated rehearsals.
Practice Your Craft
In all aspects of the craft of filmmaking, practice is key: Practice judging distance. Practice fulling focus. Practice thinking about how your T-stop, Focal Length, and Focal Distance affect DOF. Practice thinking about DOF when blocking camera and action. And practice remembering to check the focus before you move on, because a blurry shot can’t be fixed in post!
Good luck! And let me know how it goes! Subscribe to this blog for email updates!
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