Camera Assistant Series: Setting Up Your Focus Monitor

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Camera Assistant Series: Setting Up Your Focus Monitor

In this issue of our Camera Assistant Series, my talented and trusted colleague, and 1st AC Derek Edwards, is going to take you through focus assist, and how to set up a focus monitor.

1st AC Derek Edwards

Focus Assist Color:

Derek prefers to have his focus assist color green because it peaks nicely, and the color is easier on the eyes than red. With red, it feels like the color is bleeding everywhere.

Notice the bleeding of the red focus assist

When choosing the color of your focus assist, it helps to choose a color that isn’t common around you. For instance, green focus assist may be difficult to look at if you’re outside surrounded by green nature.

The Three Planes of Focus & Focus Assist Sensitivity:

For focus, Derek finds that people look at three planes for focus: the ears, the eyes, or the nose, so pay attention to the focus on these areas. To help you with your pull, you can use various tools on the monitor such as the focus assist. By adjusting the sensitivity of your focus assist, it can help you with your pull/push.

If your focus assist sensitivity is set to the highest setting, there will be more edges highlighted with the focus assist color and it will look like everything is in focus. With situations with less movement, this makes it difficult to see what specific parts of your object or talent are in focus.

Notice with the focus assist sensitivity all the way up, it’s hard to tell what is in focus

In situations with talking heads and less movement, it helps if the sensitivity of the focus is turned down. That way, there is less focus assist color distracting from the image and you can seamlessly pull to what is supposed to be in focus, rather than everything seeming to be lit up by the focus assist color. If your talent is moving a lot, it is better to have a higher focus assist sensitivity. While working on The Babysitter, Derek liked to have his focus assist on his Small HD DP7 monitor set around a 7 because it allowed him to feel the movement of the actors.

Focus and Storytelling:

As a focus puller, you guide the audience’s attention to certain talent or objects. A lot of the storytelling is guided by where the focus lies in a scene. It’s the 1st AC’s responsibility to aid in storytelling and not detract from it. Missed focus can completely ruin a scene. With today’s monitors there are many tools that can help with making sure the focus is where you want it. Focus peaking, focus assist, or pixel zoom can really help you pull focus, if the settings are dialed in correctly.

Remember that focus is a big part of the image. If it wasn’t for someone pulling focus, every image would be soft. Take your time to learn the lens, how it breathes, how it works, how it reacts in different environments. Just like every other position in the industry, it’s a process and you will continue to learn as you go.

Now get out there and go practice!

Here’s what we learned:

  • The focus monitor is the eyes of the camera:
    • Remember that you can manipulate the audience with focus.
    • It might go overlooked in many regards, but you guide the audience on where to look and where to look next.
    • Take time to see how focus can craft different narratives and tell a story.
  • Using focus peaking can be a great tool for set:
    • Make sure to dial in your focus peaking to fit the scenario that you are in.
    • Don’t rely on focus peaking being set to the proper settings when turned on. Test it and figure out how it works for you.
    • Peaking that is green can work better than red for extended periods of time. On the SmallHD DP7, the red tends to bleed over the image.
  • Setting up your focus tree to your liking is absolutely important:
    • Not every camera assistant is the same. Some use the same tools; some have different methods; some don’t even want a tree. Make sure you dial in your focus monitor setup to  keep you working efficiently on set.
    • Find the right monitor for yourself and always consider the size of the monitor. Too big can be hard for your eyes to focus in on the whole image. Too small can be strenuous for your eyes.
    • Remember that your want your focus tree to be as mobile as possible. Don’t build something that is inaccessible or hard to move with one person. Your job is to be on your toes and ready to go for whatever is thrown at you.  
  • Take the time to understand the three points of interest on a subjects face:
    • From the ears to the eyes to the nose. These are going to be your three points of interested.
    • Unless directed otherwise, your point of critical focus is always going to be the subject’s eye. From there you have a plane of focus between the ears and the nose. This plane is good to establish when setting your focus peaking.
  • Setting your monitor to B&W or Color can give you widely different results when focusing:
    • It’s considered that a B&W image is better for focusing because you can see the contrast of the image.
    • Consider being outside in a green field and you are trying to focus with green peaking. 99.99% of the time, we can’t combat the colors of the world. Utilizing B&W helps suppress any confusion with color in the monitor.

All video edited on HP Z840 workstations and HP Z24x DreamColor monitors.

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