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hey everyone - first post here! so i thought i'd ask a question that has baffled me for years.. and might have a very simple explanation (i'm a professional cameraman who has been doing this for a decade, so i'm a little embarrassed to be asking):

 

quite often in both large scale TV and film productions i'll notice on CUs of actor's faces with shallow DOF that the focal point is a good inch behind their eyes - the tops of the actor's ears are tack sharp, but their eyes and face are slightly softer. when i first started noticing this i assumed it was a mistake / sloppy focus pulling, assuming that an actor's eyes should always be their sharpest feature in a close up, but then i noticed this "technique"(?) more and more often and realized it must be intentional.

 

it occurred to me that DPs might be going for a soft focus effect on the face because it's more flattering on the subject, but then .. why is this an effect i see so inconsistently, even within a particular film? curious how obvious of an answer this might be. be gentle, i'm self taught and never went to proper film school.

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The goal is generally to have the eyes in focus so it's not intentional in most cases. The main reason is that actors tend to lean forward while talking and the focus puller got a measurement when the actor was sitting or standing straighter. And focus pullers worry about over-compensating and pulling too close, in which case the focus could end up in the air in front of the actor or the tip of the nose.

 

Another less common reason is just that the actor has moved closer than minimum focus on the lens.

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wow - that's what i initially thought was the explanation seeing as you could use a Pro-Mist filter or something of that nature to flatter the subject .. but if this isn't a technique than i'm shocked at how often i've seen shots with this mistake make the cut in high profile films!

 

 

The goal is generally to have the eyes in focus so it's not intentional in most cases. The main reason is that actors tend to lean forward while talking and the focus puller got a measurement when the actor was sitting or standing straighter. And focus pullers worry about over-compensating and pulling too close, in which case the focus could end up in the air in front of the actor or the tip of the nose.

Another less common reason is just that the actor has moved closer than minimum focus on the lens.

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There are some rare cases where a DP will have a focus puller let a face go a little soft in focus to be flattering but it is far more common to use a diffusion filter instead so that the eyes can be in focus. Out of focus eyes can be distracting.

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thanks for your help david - glad to hear i haven't been oblivious to some strange focus technique for the past decade.

 

 

There are some rare cases where a DP will have a focus puller let a face go a little soft in focus to be flattering but it is far more common to use a diffusion filter instead so that the eyes can be in focus. Out of focus eyes can be distracting.

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I think this out of focus effect is almost always unintentional.

 

I think it's especially common when focus pullers use a video monitor with focus peaking to confirm the focus... It's just not accurate enough.

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If the actor's head is behind a dark background and there is no catchlight in the eyes, often the ears will pop into focus first on a focus puller's monitor due to the greater contrast around the ears. Especially on a difficult shot there's a tendency to latch onto the first sharp thing you see, so focus pullers need to watch out for that when pulling from a monitor. It takes some confidence to simply know where the focus is and not go hunting for focus when nothing looks pin-sharp on the small monitor due to low contrast.

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Aside from the false positives that focus peaking occasionally gives, on a 5" monitor, just about everything looks sharp. Ever shortening schedules have meant that ACs don't have the time to measure distances like they used to, and they are always under pressure to 'shoot the rehearsal'. Hence the reliance on the monitor, and all of the inaccuracies that come with it.

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I had a young 1st AC who works on a lot of $2m features tell me that apparently name talent these days hate it when you tape out, especially with soft tape. She would know better than me, since I never really worked on features or tv before I moved on to shooting. I think that's rather odd, but if true I guess it would certainly explain some things.

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I had a young 1st AC who works on a lot of $2m features tell me that apparently name talent these days hate it when you tape out, especially with soft tape.

I've never heard of that. Don't see why they should care. Having a hard tape thrust in their face from 6 feet away, as I've seen many ACs do, is another matter.

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I've never heard of that. Don't see why they should care. Having a hard tape thrust in their face from 6 feet away, as I've seen many ACs do, is another matter.

Yeah, that's not so good. In the past, I would throw out hard tape at waist level and eyeball any offset. But I always liked using soft tape more than the laser for repeatable dolly moves where we had marks. Never liked shining a laser near the face so I'd usually aim at the chest and again eyeball offset. Whereas with the soft tape, you really had precise marks to the eyeball. But then, the projects I worked on almost never had a Cinetape. Maybe that makes a difference?

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