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Depth of Field

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The span of distance along the shot axis in which objects will be in focus. Determined by Focal Length and iris aperture. Basically, the smaller the aperture, the deeper the depth-of-field; pinhole cameras can often produce a razor-sharp picture at the expense of longer, darker exposures. A more open aperture lets in more light, but since it's less directed, as the hole gets wider, the picture overall gets fuzzier (warped, actually). Also note that the closer the subject is, the smaller the depth-of-field will be (especially important in Macro photography) and that the depth-of-field decreases as one increases the focal length.

Skillful management of this property is a requirement for Rack Focus and an important part of creating the illusion of three-dimensionality; i.e., Graphical Perspective.

For instance, a shallow depth-of-field might be used for scenes set in restaurants and other public settings to keep the background blurry, and thus de-emphasize it for intimacy's sake (or to blur out people in the background who might oppose having their picture taken).

2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, and the 1978 version of Battlestar Galactica were innovative in that the models of the spaceships looked like large ships which were far away. This was achieved by, among other things, small lens apertures to lengthen the depth of field, therefore strengthening the illusion.

Long depth-of-field is sometimes faked by Forced Perspective —having an object in the foreground be an oversized prop.

Modern Video Games attempt to emulate the depth-of-field effect of a real camera via a number of Post-Processing Video Effects. More traditional Art forms can play about with it using Graphical Perspective. Manga, however, relies on the so-called screen tones to equate but not mimic what would be close-up shots and shifts in the depth of field.

Do not confuse with Depth of Field Productions.

Super-Trope of Rack Focus (focusing on something from the foreground to something in the background or vice versa) and Blade-of-Grass Cut (cutting from an emotionally intense scene to a still, small object). Related to Funny Background Event (when the camera focuses on a comedic situation in the background). Contrast Forced Perspective (adjusting the apparent size of an object or person by moving it closer or further away from the camera) and Motion Parallax (emulating the distance/perception of movement dichotomy —farther=slower— through layers), other Camera Tricks meant to create the illusion of depth. This trope is commonly used in "Back to Camera" Pose compositions.


Live-Action Examples:

Films — Live-Action

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: The shot from the perspective of HAL's cyber-eye.
  • Michelangelo Antonioni shoots his films keeping both foreground and background in focus.
  • Avatar: This is the first film to exploit depth-of-field in the 3D effects, evolving them from a mere gimmick to a sure way to bump the visuals. Not only do the CGI-generated characters look more realistic (as they are better focused) but they also stand in sharp contrast against the non-3D background.
  • The Batman (2022): In the deleted Arkham scene, when obscured due to the camera's depth of field, Joker looks like he has Ledger's Glasgow Grin.
  • Casablanca: This effect is messed with to produce a Gaussian Girl filter over Ingrid. This is done by placing Victor, behind her, even when he has no speaking lines, so she's not in close-up.
  • A Cure for Pokeritis: In a historical first, this method is used to put characters both in the foreground (the ones advancing the plot) and the background (the ones doing funny stuff).
  • Enemy Mine: The crash landing on Fyrine IV is accomplished by filming miniatures with a very shallow depth-of-field focus.
  • Enter the Void: Oscar's POV sometimes has this effect.
  • The Fellowship of the Ring: A faked long depth-of-field is accomplished by putting a prop ring the size of a plate in the foreground. That way, the One Ring lying in the snow appears in as much sharpness as the stuff in the background.
  • John Frankenheimer: He's recognized for his work in pushing the limits of this effect.
  • King of Kings: Several scenes of the film feature a shared shot of two characters —one in extreme close-up and one in the background— with both of them being in clear focus thanks to large depth-of-field.
  • Princess Nicotine: A camera with a large depth-of-field is used to record a table and the dancing fairies' reflection in the mirror at once in such a way that it seems the fairies are on top of the table.
  • Robot Jox: The director wanted to permeate the film with realistic visuals to contrast with the Sci-Fi shenanigans going on in the plot and to further add to the dystopian grittiness. For that purpose, the film was shot with a very large depth of field in outdoor sets so the sky and the mountains stood sharply along with the characters.
  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier: The scene where Kirk clings to the El Capitán's face is shot with large depth-of-field to create the illusion of height.
  • Strangers on a Train: In the final scene, Barba and Anne await Guy's call. Since the phone is the key element of the scene, it's placed in the foreground, occupying a great portion of the screen. However, the limited depth of field of the time couldn't clearly focus both the phone and the women at the same time, so the scene was shot using an oversized phone prop.
  • Transformers Film Series: The shot of Devastator waking up was shot with an extremely large depth of field in an I-MAX camera and then re-rendered with an ILM camera (which allows for an even larger depth) in order of its sheer mass could be conveyed to the viewers.

Live-Action TV

  • Knight Rider: In "Let It Be Me", in order to preserve the depth of field, the driving scenes of the music video are shot with the car the actors are in being towed by the camera truck.
  • Law & Order: A shallow depth-of-field is frequently used when filming in crowded areas full of non-acting people. This way, the characters stand in sharp contrast and nobody sues the show.
  • Supernatural: The shallow depth-of-field in most close shots works against them with the advent of HD; seeing Dean's stubble or Bobby's whiskers slip in and out of focus through the course of a scene as the cameraman fails to hold it just right is a common occurrenceDuring the filming of a driving sequence for a music video, the car Michael and Stevie are in has its brake lines cut in a murder attempt. In reality, whenever actors are filmed "driving", it is either using Rear Projection/Chroma Key or, if "live", the car the actors are in will be towed by the camera lorry, in order to preserve camera focus and Depth of Field. This is actually given an unintentional Lampshade Hanging with An Inserted reverse-angle shot of the camera truck, which shot is bouncing wildly.


  • Slipknot: Used in "Before I Forget" along with Extreme Close Ups as a way of both keeping the band's faces mostly hidden (this was during a time when their real appearances weren't as well-known unless you already knew what they looked like or spotted their tattoos) and showing some of said tattoos and brief glimpses of some facial features.
    • Wilson gets close-ups of his mouth, hands, and DJ table.
    • Jordison is only seen from behind, slightly out of focus.
    • Gray's hands, bass, neck (with necklace), and eyes are shown in close-up.
    • Fehn is mostly shown in the foreground, but only his hands, arms, and legs.
    • Root and Thomson's only close-ups are their hands, arms, guitars, and legs.
    • In keeping with his reclusive nature, Jones is the only band member who is always out of focus, with just the side of his head and hands visible.
    • Crahan is mostly seen wildly headbanging in the background but does get close-ups of his mouth when shouting "I!" in the choruses.
    • Taylor gets close-ups of his mouth, eyes, hand, foot, and hair.

Web Videos

  • Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie: A handful of scenes are shot using miniatures; they feature a shallow depth-of-field even though the minis are not that close to the camera.
  • Corridor Digital: In the "VFX Artists React to the Moon Landing" video, the unique depth of field of the American moon landing footage is brought up as proof that it couldn't have been faked, as it, among other special effects, were beyond the technical capabilities of cameras from The '60s.

Non Live-Action Examples:

Anime & Manga

  • Fireworks: This technique is employed to blur Nazuna's bra the one time it's visible in order to avoid a too-lecherous Male Gaze.
  • Makoto Shinkai: His Creator Thumbprint is to closely emulate real camera tricks such as depth of field so he can create a sense of intimacy and nostalgia. It also makes his animes' visuals feel more grounded.
  • Stardust Telepath: The mangaka uses False Camera Effects to blur the foreground or background to emulate depth of field warping. One example occurs in the 38th chapter, when Umika is comforting Yuu and her phone rings.
  • Violet Evergarden: In the anime, most of the scenes where Violet is reminiscing or being introspective are laden with blur effects and large depths of field. They are used to create a vibe of alienation either from other human beings or from her traumatic past.

Fan Works

  • Murder Mystery Bacheloret Challenges: In "Limerence", Amelia throwing the camera to a wall causes its lenses to crack and prevents its depth of field from properly adjusting. This remains like that for the rest of the episode and serves to obscure the murderer's identity.

Films — Animation

  • My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks: Part of the Animation Bump is that the scenes are generated with a depth-of-field effect to help differentiate the Mane Six or the Dazzlings from the crowd.
  • Ratatouille: Rémy gets in his own little world when preparing his first soup. He's so focused, that the depth-of-field closes up to focus only on him, blurring the background. His Oh, Crap! realization about being watched (by Linguini) is highlighted by the depth-of-field opening up again and focusing on both human and rat, all the blur vanishing.
  • Verwitterte Melodie: The film simulates depth-of-field in a very innovative way for its era. I.e., producing it with a multiplane camera.

Video Games

  • The Adventures of Batman and Robin: In every stage, this technique is employed to create the illusion of depth between the sharply focused foreground and the slightly blurred background.
  • Alien: Isolation: When being held out, the depth-of-field of Amanda's Enemy-Detecting Radar brings the sensor screen to focus, blurring the environment for Sensor Suspense purposes.
  • Black: Reloading causes the screen to blur, mimicking an extremely large depth-of-field effect.
  • Chaos Legion: The PC port doesn't render the graphics very well, which leads to poor quality of the depth-of-field effects.
  • Euro Truck Simulator: Both Euro Truck Simulator 2 and American Truck Simulator have a Photo Mode with a handful of sliders to adjust the depth of field of the scenery or the parked Big Badass Rigs.
  • Fallout 4: It's used in the Survival mode to augment the realism and make it harder to aim. It's, unfortunately, a very dizzying effect.
  • Final Fantasy XIII: While the depth-of-field works fine in the original console, the PC release has issues rendering, giving everything a displaced, unfocused look when certain actions are performed.
  • First Encounter Assault Recon: Used a great deal in F.E.A.R. 2, particularly while aiming, to make the camera focus on what the character is notionally looking at.
  • God of War Ragnarök: The miniboss battle against Hromundr the Cruel and the Sisters of Illska is set in an enclosed space that makes it very difficult to maintain depth of field long enough to comfortably aim at them. It also serves to obscure where some of their attacks are coming from.
  • GRID: The Graphics mode prioritizes donning both characters and scenery with more detailed visuals, so they get shadows and depth-of-field.
  • Hitman 3: There's a camera item that serves as a first-person view Photo Mode necessary for passing the last level. It includes a depth-of-field filter to blur the background that can get as shallow as a 4x zoom.
  • House Of The Dead III: Both the arcade and PC versions have a depth-of-field to give the impression of physical depth.
  • Mario Kart Tour: The Photo Mode comes with a tunable depth-of-field blur filter that allows the player to select which elements they want in sharp focus.
  • The Order: 1886: The visuals evoke a cinematic vibe that is accomplished by various Post-Processing Video Effects, such as depth-of-field blurs over the backgrounds and when aiming. It also has the nice benefit of reducing the processing power needed to render the game.
  • Project SEKAI: The "Brand New World" artstyle enhancements to the visual filters include lading the background and foreground with depth-of-field.
  • Resident Evil 4: The HD Project mod has a plug-on to fix several adjustments to the visuals, such as some missing depth-of-field effects.
  • Toy Story: The already detailed graphics are improved by 3D effects that provide everything with a dept-of-field look.
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief's End: The Photo Mode lets you tinker with the depth-of-field and field-of-view in order to capture the best of the game's very detailed visuals.

Western Animation

  • Batman: The Animated Series: In "Joker's Favor", False Camera Effects are used to replicate the depth of field refocusing from Charlie's family on the outside and himself on the inside of the house during the course of his call with the Joker.
  • Littlest Pet Shop (2012): In "Terriers & Tiaras", the camera has to re-focus itself when any sort of zoom happens in the Terriers & Tiaras footage. For some reason, the cameraperson seems to be relying on autofocus rather than manual focus.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: From the fourth season onward, the animation gets enhanced by emulating depth-of-field applied to the background whenever there's a close-up shot of a character. Previously, this technique was reserved for some Rack Focus tricks.
  • The Simpsons: In "Highway to Well", Marge consuming some cannabis causes her vision to get warped as if it were experiencing depth-of-field issues.
  • South Park: In "Cartman Sucks", Cartman makes a slideshow comprising a pic of him and Butters in a compromising position. He gets onto detailing all the filters and Camera Tricks he applied to it, with one of them being low depth of field so the background remains fuzzy. This reveals how much of a shutterbug he is.
    Cartman: Yes. This is shot at a 5.6 aperture using a low-light filter. You can see the grain from the high-speed film and the low depth of field keeps the background soft.
  • VeggieTales: In "Larry-Boy and the Rumor Weed", several Camera Tricks, such as playing with the depth-of-field, are used extensively when hitherto they were not.
  • Velma: The simulated depth-of-field is very inconsistent, with the blurring effect being applied apparently randomly. Stuff is focused when it should be blurred and vice versa.