Depth Of Field: What’s Best For Your Story?

Depth Of Field: What’s Best For Your Story?

A couple of months ago, I created a video tutorial to show how camera movement can affect your story. The take away from the video and article was that filmmaking should be about the sexiest camera movement, but instead the focus should be on camera movement that fits your story. Learning how to put my story first was something repeatedly drilled into my head while attending a workshop by filmmakers “Stillmotion” last year.  Stillmotion's story-first approach has been the key to their success and has helped them land huge contracts shooting the Superbowl, Callaway Golf and Canon just to name a few.

As I noted in my Slider vs. Jib vs. Steadicam article:

“When dealing with the visuals of any story, composition, lens choice, lighting, color grading and camera movement all need to work seamlessly together to keep your audience engaged.”

When it comes to lens choice, the first question filmmakers usually ask is “What focal length should I use?” and “How much do I want to visually compress my image”. Although this is important to your story, Stillmotion has shifted the focus (pardon the pun) to the often-underestimated power of depth of field.


In their video, Patrick covers three different ways to shoot a scene. In true Stillmotion fashion he merely shows the examples and leaves the decision up to the viewer. His final thought is an important one:

"Just like any filmmaking tool, we have to make sure we’re using it effectively. Just because we have a Steadicam, doesn’t mean we should be shooting with it for every single shot. Likewise, just because we’re now able to have a super shallow depth of field, doesn’t mean that it makes sense, or is propelling our story if we use it for every single shot."

Check out more awesome Stillmotion tutorials on their blog.

Feel free to leave a comment below telling me which storytelling component I should cover next.

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Shallow DOF : Overused - Overused - Overused

With the emergence of DSLRs for filming all of a sudden everyone feels compelled to attach a f1.4 lens and go for ultra shallow DOF. What is nice when sparsely used becomes a real nuisance when used as a general way of depicting objects.

It seems worst on gadget reviews when some kind of would-be Steven Spielberg lives in the delusion that showing a USB port at 1mm DOF is cool. No it's not. It's just a downright example of having not grasped the concept. To compound the problem those dudes really grapple with the intricacies of getting the focus right on the spot, finally resulting in footage featuring the AF gone crazy.

It makes me cringe to see the host flipping the laptop so the backside faces to the camera. Since often enough there are no patterns for the AF to hold on the AF starts jumping back and forth in desperation. Yikes.

Remember : Just because you can doesn't mean you have to.


I think it's also much overused in photography. Shallow depth of field is one of the easiest ways to seperate a subject, but also one of the most boring ways to do it. Creating a good composition with the help of shapes, color and light is much harder but so much more appealing and interesting.

Reminds me of going to a group shootout.

Everyone pulls their fast lenses, shoot from the very same angle, widest aperture.

In the end, everything looks the same.

Like you said, the one who shoots with composition with the help of shapes, color and light, really makes their picture distinctive from the others.

Indeed, like any technique you need to decide if it actually ads to your story. Never use a technique just because its the latest cool thing in cinema. Shallow DOF is particuarly dangerous not only can it detract from the story even if you are from a purely technical prespective using it well, it makes your focus pulling that much harder, which risk being a major distraction. SloMo was another major fad that was overused. Really effective when used well, but over used often spoilt its impact.

Next FS story will be "How To obtain a Shallow Depth of Field Equivalent to f/0.04 Lens For Your Next Indie Film Project by adapting Brenzier Method for Video" amirite?? Ok, ok, I'm just yanking your chain. Thanks for another great lesson!