What is deep focus?
Deep focus is a cinematography style or technique using a large depth of field. The depth of field determines how much of the image is sharp. In deep focus, everything visible on the screen is in focus.
How do you shoot deep focus?
Deep focus starts with your camera lens. Filmmakers and photographers take deep focus shots with small apertures, to achieve a great depth of field. This small aperture doesn’t let in a lot of light, so shooting in a well-lit scene is a criterion. Long exposure can also compensate for unideal lighting conditions. Wide-angle lenses can take sharper shots than their counterparts with longer focal lengths.
When not directing the audience’s attention otherwise, blocking and staging take on an important role. The actors’ pathing and how the camera follows are key to ensure that the viewer sees what they’re meant to see.
Deep focus shots are often shot using deep space. This means that important elements are positioned both near and far from the camera. The placement of characters and story elements consciously and subconsciously add to the meaning of the scene. That’s why they require thorough planning to the very last detail.
History: Citizen Kane
Citizen Kane is the staple of cinematic revolution, from 1941. Director Orson Welles and cinematographer Gregg Toland pioneered deep focus, a very uncommon technique at the time. Deep space is used to create a world where characters move freely, and foreground, middle-ground, and background are all part of the storytelling.
Read more about the impact Citizen Kane had on filmmaking on The Atlantic.
As today’s big Hollywood movies tend to utilize shorter shots and tighter framing, deep focus becomes more of an artistic choice than a practical solution to capture everything ongoing. It’s still a great choice when it comes to breath-taking or busy backgrounds that become part of the storytelling, or if you want to give your audience permission to explore.
Especially combined with deep space, deep focus can create complex, layered, detailed worlds. It provides space for the characters to come to life, and space for the audience to wander and experience the film subjectively.