September 10, 2017
“As a slave in an authoritarian state…your only agency is mental.”
In recent years, shallow depth of field has become cliché. Seen almost as a shorthand for the “film look,” it’s used constantly by beginners to give an almost instantaneous boost to their production values despite the many potential flaws in composition, lighting, and overall quality of their filmmaking. However, shallow focus shouldn’t be written off as a cheap device to make images look more cinematic—instead, look at the many gifted directors and cinematographers who utilize this technique to tell more dynamic stories through their visuals.
In this video essay, Evan Puschak of Nerdwriter does just that by highlighting the brilliant way director Reed Morano and DP Colin Watkinson use shallow focus to effectively communicate the devastating oppression and totalitarian theonomy in Hulu’s hit TV show The Handmaid’s Tale.
Though shallow focus has its obvious visual merits, Morano and Watkinson use it more for its narrative potential. Puschak notes three ways in which they do this: