Category: Video tips

For interview-style videos, you want that great blurred background look

This post is for: small business owners who post interview-style videos online.

Want your interview-style videos to look more professional? If so, have you ever analysed what makes close-ups of actors look so great on television and in movies?

Of course, the amazing lighting and the thousands of dollars of state-of-the art filming equipment has a lot to do with it.  But have a look around the actor: more often than not, everything in the background is out of focus. As TV and movie watchers, we’re so used to that look that we don’t really even notice it most of the time. But putting the subject in sharp focus and everything around him or her out of focus makes the subject look more important, doesn’t it? It focuses the viewer’s attention, and to a certain extent it simulates natural vision, because our eyes tend to convey very detailed visual information to us about what we’re looking at directly, and less precise information about the things around it that are in our peripheral vision.

That blurred background look is very popular in still photography too of course, where enthusiasts will discuss at length the “bokeh” of a particular camera lens, a term that refers to the quality of that background blur. Photographers create that blur through camera settings that produce a shallow depth of field, meaning that only the objects close to what you’ve intentionally focused on will also be in focus.

If you’re shooting your company’s YouTube videos with a smartphone or camcorder, however, you may not be able to achieve that blurred background look, because those types of devices are usually built to do the exact opposite, namely, to keep everything in the picture – both foreground and background – as sharp as possible.

Some smartphones now offer a “lens blur” feature to simulate the shallow depth of field look (in still images however, not videos).  But they achieve this effect essentially by faking it with software, not by switching lenses. I took these two quick photos of a yogurt container with my Google phone recently to test how that feature works – not too bad for faking it!  But it won’t help you with your videos.

Say, didn't I see that yogurt container on the right in the movies recently?

Say, didn’t I see that yogurt container on the right in the movies recently?

The quest for that shallow depth of field in affordable video-making is what led me – and millions of others – to switch from using camcorders to using DSLR cameras to make our videos. With a video-capable DSLR camera, you can have your choice of lenses, so you can use lenses that allow you to open up the aperture wide (to something like f 2.4 or 4.0), which is the easiest way to dramatically narrow your depth of field.  You have to be careful not to go overboard though, because at the widest aperture settings, the resulting depth of field can be so narrow that your subject’s eyes may be in focus, but his or her nose and ears are not!

Here’s a good example of a video (from the Microsoft Azure website) that uses exactly that shallow depth of field look in all of the interview segments. There’s no reason that small businesses like yours can’t have videos that look just as good by using the same technique:

There are of course many factors that contribute to the perceived quality of a video. But if you’re wondering why your phone or camcorder videos look so much less professional than what you’re used to seeing in films, try shooting with something that lets you keep your subject sharp while making the background blurry. That one improvement alone will boost the quality and attractiveness of your interview-style videos significantly.

This post was written by: Frank Herr

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