In the past few years, I’ve embarked on a quest to obtain shallow depth of field in my video projects. For me, shallow depth of field was synonym to quality, an unobtainable style in the years I was shooting with a good old Panasonic DVX100a. In 2008, while studying in Montreal and working with my friend Charles-Etienne Pascal, I realized I wasn’t the only one involved in this journey. CE decided to manually create shallow depth of field in our short film “Face à Face“, rotoscoping each and every frame of the 10-minute long movie, to recreate the effect of out-of-focus backgrounds, something that could not be achieved with the Sony HVR-V1U we were using for the film. The result was still amazing indeed (check out the making-of), but it lacked something, and I couldn’t figure out what back then.
In the first year I started to work with Nova Film, the company acquired a Letus35 Extreme adapter, which allowed us to attach Canon FD lenses to our HVX-200. I almost orgasmed when I first saw the 1080p image with super shallow depth of field. The quest seemed achieved for me, finally. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. While now being able to produce the images I envisioned for close to 3 years, I had no knowledge whatsoever of lenses and aperture, which is key when your thing is shallow depth of field.
The next year, the first Canon 5D MKII videos started emerging, and boy did I get served with depth of field. Every single shot in every video was a close-up of something with almost everything out of focus. While watching those videos, it finally struck me. The sharp circles created by out-of-focus lights, the ocean of dots created by leaves, the massive reflections on chrome and metal… Every material and texture had its own unique kind of blur. Later on, Phil Têtu, a fellow worker at Nova Film who has more knowledge about lenses than an encyclopedia, pronounced the word that finally gave a name to the endless blurry-background descriptions I was using: Bokeh. The answer to all my questions.
Bokeh became almost an obsession for me in the last months. Now that I have a fair knowledge of lenses, and that I’ve tested quite a few, I’m always looking for the best out-of-focus background to put my subject in front of, the best texture that will render the most amazing circles, hexagons or octagons behind my subject.
Three weeks ago, I acquired an old Zeiss 50mm 1.7, from the man himself, Phil Têtu, and I decided to go out and take a few shots to see what this new baby could do. I came back with many disappointing shots, a few good pictures, and one that amazed me, this one.
I was really struck by this picture. To be honest, I almost didn’t look through the lens while taking this picture, so that’s why it surprised me. And of course, the blur, the circles, the light and the rainbow flare were the first things that caught my attention, not the few little flower tips that were in focus. And it inspired me to do some more. I then realized something: why do I need a subject when all I’m looking for is that perfect abstract shape that an out of focus background gives me ? Why can’t the background become the foreground ? And that is exactly the new challenge I’ve embarked on today and for the coming weeks, and maybe months.
For now, this will be simply called The Bokeh Experiment, because, let’s face it, that is what it is. It’s probably been done before, and frankly, I don’t care. In the end, I’d like to come up with a series with a more original name of 10 to 15 pictures composed of nothing (or close to) but out-of-focus rendered shapes. I will start out with my personal lenses, and maybe rent/borrow some to achieve results that my personal gear can’t produce. If you have any suggestions of lens I should try out, please, PLEASE post them in the comments below. For the first time since I made my last ski-movie, I’m looking forward to the first snow, because sunlight reflecting on snow crystals is one of the most simple yet amazing things that light can create.
So here it is, the first picture of the set. I don’t know yet if it will make the final cut, but I feel like it’s a good start.