When most people think about adding depth to videos, they immediately think about DSLR cameras, and for good reason: One of the most appealing aspects of shooting video on a DSLR is the shallow depth of field you can achieve.
With DSLRs, interchangeable lenses that stop down to wide apertures allow you to get those super-cinematic shots, capture bokeh, rack focus, and separate your subject from the background, drawing your audience's eye to the details you choose. Adjusting aperture to obtain shallow depth of field is a great trick, but let's not get stuck in thinking that it's the only way to add depth to your shots.
This great tutorial from Realm Pictures explores six ways to create depth in your videos, most of which don’t call for a DSLR:
All right! Let's recap what we just saw:
1. Depth of field
The wider your aperture (meaning the smaller the number), the shallower your depth of field. As you can see in the tutorial, when shooting at f/22, both Eve and the background are in focus. However, opening up the aperture to f/1.4 creates shallower depth of field, where Eve is in focus while the background is not.
Remember that when you change your aperture, you need to compensate to maintain your exposure. When shooting on a DSLR, you usually want your shutter speed to remain at 1/50th or 1/60th of a second (depending on your frame rate), so you'll want to compensate for a shift in aperture by changing your ISO.
If you're shooting outdoors on a sunny day and your ISO is set as low as possible but you still can't open the aperture wide enough to get the shallow depth of field you want, try using a neutral density filter to decrease the amount of light hitting the sensor. This fun video by stillmotion offers further explanation.
Sometimes adding depth is as simple as adding backlighting. As seen in the tutorial, when the sun is behind Eve, a natural line of light around her head and shoulders separates her from the background. The same principle pertains to a three-point lighting system. When using artificial lights indoors, backlighting helps the eye distinguish the subject from the background, thereby adding depth.
3. Foreground elements
Adding an element to the foreground is another simple way to add depth. Placing something closer to the camera gives context to the shot and helps better define the placement of your subject.
Changing up your shot composition and getting creative with angles also can add depth. The shot with Eve in front of the shed is composed on one visual plane. However, by moving the camera to the side and shooting at Eve down the line of the shed, the vanishing horizontal lines of the structure create depth and draw the focus towards her.
Parallax is not the name of a more relaxed parallel universe — it’s a property of visual perception whereby an object looks different when viewed from varying angles. In the tutorial, this effect is achieved by moving the camera along a glide track so that the foreground elements move faster than the ones in the background. This contrast accentuates the difference between the two planes and — you guessed it — adds depth.
6. Smoke and Haze
Bet you weren't expecting this one! In the tutorial, the air behind Dave is filled with smoke. Since there is less smoke between the camera and Dave than there is between Dave and the wall, Dave really pops out from the background.
So there you have it! On your next shoot, challenge yourself to add depth by combining the different strategies you've learned here. Think outside the aperture — things could get deep!