depth

Depth, which is closely connected to separation, describes the dimensionality of a shot. Usually a shot should have a foreground, mid-ground and background to produce a 3 dimensional image. This dimensionality adds clarity to the frame and separates story relevant elements for example an actor in the foreground from a building in the background. There are a lot of different techniques to add depth to a scene like using practicals, adding smoke, bright to dark or dark to bright depth cueing, shallow depth of field, layering object from foreground to background,…

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Heat, Cinematographer: Dante Spinotti
Fore- to middle ground: Strategically lit luggage container. Background: Airport navigation lights.
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The Da Vinci Code, Cinematographer: Salvatore Totino
Practical lights and moon hitting the floor used to create depth
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Das Boot, Cinematographer: Jost Vacano
Dark foreground actor with soft rim. Midground actor lit from above. Background washed out using smoke.
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Prisoners, Cinematographer: Roger Deakins
Dark to bright depth cueing. Strong reflection on trailer and water add extra dimensionality.
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On the Waterfront, Cinematographer: Boris Kaufman
Silhouetted actor for a clear read in foreground. Mid- to background: Wall brightly lit with darker patches inbetween to give extra depth. Additional street lights in the far background.
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Sword of Doom, Cinematographer: Hiroshi Murai
Even though the lighting it self is rather flat, the smoke from mid- to background adds a lot of depth.

In comparison to the examples above this shot from ‘Bridge of Spies’ has hardly any dimensionality. Only the shallow depth of field adds a bit of depth to it. You get also the impression that foreground and background are in two different worlds almost like the actor is in front of a canvas. The reason for this shot being so flat is the frontal lighting. There are barely any shadow or any light wrapping around his face or the helmet.

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Bridge of Spies, Cinematographer: Janusz Kamiński
The shot is rather flat except for the shallow depth of field.

Unless there is a very good reason don’t use frontal lighting. It will produce very flat images without any dimensionality like in the example above.

 

 

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