Melissa Kester | Blog

videographer ↔photographer ↔filmmaker

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Our Sexy Siren – Shallow Depth of Field


Since becoming addicted to shooting photos and film, I obsess about many geeky things. Along these lines, I often think about depth of field (dof). Anyone working extensively with images must consider dof. It is a universal, apparently culture-free truth that shallow dof (where the subject of your shot is in focus and what surrounds it is blurred out) is captivating.  Truly captivating. Hard to look away. In a mind-bendingly paradoxical way, it’s the same idea that was famously expressed by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart to describe his threshold about what pornography is, and therefore what separates it from art, “I know I when I see it”!

The same is true for a shallow depth of field. We know it when we see it! Most people, who aren’t visual image addicts like everyone reading this presumably is, don’t even know what crushed dof is and yet they instinctively love it. Humans respond in a visceral way. We can’t say why crushed dof is beautiful to behold, it just is! Camera lenses are coveted and priced for lower apertures which not only let in more light but crush the dof.

We seem instinctively know “beauty” when we see it. That response has got to be neurologically hard-wired. But why? What would the possible basis for this innate love of crushed dof be?

 The other night as I was putting away laundry in my daughter’s room I glanced at an episode of CSI on her television. I noticed how virtually every shot was tailored to crush dof, and how I was correspondingly mesmerized. I couldn’t pull myself away from the screen and watched the whole dang show when I had far better things to do. Why waste my time like that? It wasn’t just the crime story (although that helps and the lighting was fantastic too), but I was almost hypnotized by the way it was shot. “Sexy dof got me again, I thought. Then it dawned on me why… the camera was doing the all the work for me! I didn’t even have to operate my eyes.

When we move through our environment, we have natural and frequent dof shifts. What we want to focus on we do, and the rest blurred out until we shift our focus point. What is out of our focus is always blurred. Selective focus is our natural state in a 3D world. The camera work on CSI both mimicked this natural state AND was saving me the work of choosing my focus points. In doing so, it was eliciting an almost trance or dream like state. This must be the hook! I could visually relax and let the selective focus offered by the crushed dof lead me.  In fully letting go, the visual images pulled me through in a way that felt entrancing, beautiful and soothing. Someone else was driving my eyes!

In flat (i.e, deep) dof shots, like in common wide-angle shots or the majority of video work, everything on screen is largely in focus, and so we must work to pick our focal points. Framing directs us some, but we still have to sift through stimuli. Details either behind or in front of the intended subject still clamor for our attention; all equal on the flat plane of the screen. In some ways, watching flat video (like many reality shows) is draining. There are so many possible focal points on the screen competing for our attention. Not so with crushed dof footage. This control over dof is what the increasingly popular DSLRs and high-end film cameras/lenses offer. Even if we choose to focus on the blurry parts in these images, they are soft and lovely, not jarring and grabbing for our attention.

So lets consider frame rate too. When you compare the 30 frames per second rate used in most video work versus the 24 fps in most film, you have even more detail to clamor for your attention. Increasing the frame rate and the corresponding sharpness of movement it entails can be seen explicitly when using the 48 fps as in the Hobbit movie. It is jarring, unreal, in a non-soothing way. 24 fps offers the life-like blurring of movement, similar to our everyday visual perception that allows us to relax. Now, combine the crushed dof and the softer 24 frame rate, and most well shot movies make us physiologically relaxed and able to enter a more trance like open state for absorbing the story.

What do you think? I suppose I should punt this to a neuropsychologist for commentary. Hope you are intrigued by today’s musings on sexy dof, which are arguably justification as to why I sink so much hard-earned money into Canon lenses and drag my DSLRs and multiple lenses on every shoot even though I know using my Panasonic camcorder would be oh so much easier. Oh and did I mention how much nicer the light on DSLRs is?


What is Cyberstalking?

 What is cyberstalking?

Cyberstalking is a technologically based “attack” on one person who has been targeted specifically for that attack for reasons of anger, revenge or control.

Cyberstalking can take many forms, including:

  • Harassment, embarrassment and humiliation of the victim
  • Attempts to destroy the victim’s economic livelihood
  • Harassing family, friends co-workers and employers to isolate the victim
  • Scare tactics to instill fear for the victim’s safety and the safety of loved ones

A cyberstalker’s intent is to terrorize and irreparably harm their victim using the anonymity and untraceable distance of technology. In many situations, the victims never discover the identity of the cyberstalkers who attack them, despite their lives being completely destroyed by the perpetrator. Online anonymity is critical to cyberstalking, as it shields the perpetrator from consequences in all their actions.

 Is cyberstalking the same thing as identity theft?

No, cyberstalking is not identity theft. An identity thief, whether stealing from a stranger or a family member, has only financial gain in mind, and is unconcerned by the consequences of their behavior on the victim’s life. In contrast, the actions of a cyberstalker are specifically engineered to have disastrous consequences to the victim. While not engaging in identity theft per se, cyberstalkers often do take over their victims’ identity online, communicating as the victim in order to destroy the victim’s reputation, employment and social support network.

 What’s the impact of cyberstalking?

The impact is devastating. Victims suffer profound psychological symptoms similar to PTSD. Careers, reputations, community standing, marriages, relationships and economic livelihood are often destroyed. Amplifying this victimization is the fact that victims, when they do report what is happening, are rarely taken seriously and frequently not even believed. Few people have ever heard of cyberstalking, and certainly never imagined the horrendous possibilities that accompany it. When details of an actual cyberstalking case are relayed, people assume that the violations are so egregious that law enforcement will surely step in. But they do not.

 Isn’t cyberstalking illegal?

Yes, and while there are some local and federal laws regarding physical stalking and harassment that have some provisions for “electronic devices”, they are toothless and hardly ever prosecuted. Quite simply put, cyberstalking is not on our national radar.  Law enforcement resources are allocated towards other cyber crimes involving national security, child pornography and large-scale financial fraud. Further, law enforcement is strikingly ill equipped to deal with cyberstalking both in terms of their technological capabilities, as well as their understanding of the crime.  The phrase victims most often hear from law enforcement is, “Just ignore it, it will stop”.

Because law enforcement is largely unresponsive to reports of cyberstalking, victims are most often advised to pursue their anonymous stalker in a civil court for “libel and slander”; otherwise known as Internet defamation. However, these defamation cases, while ballooning in numbers, are largely ineffective, unsuccessful and outrageously expensive. In the miniscule percentage of cyberstalking cases where stalkers are sued successfully, the consequences to the perpetrator are minimal and the rulings are narrow, so the stalking typically continues, with the stalker simply using different accusations and more advanced tactics and tools to avoid detection.

How big a problem is it?

Cyberstalking appears to be virtually epidemic. Because it is such a new phenomenon the media and law enforcement have yet to broadly define and quantify it. Without consistent definition, and very little response from law enforcement, it is impossible to quantify statistically, although everyone agrees the phenomenon is growing exponentially. What numbers there are reveal millions of existing and projected future cases.

Could it happen to me?

Yes. And chances are it will affect you or a loved one in the next few months or years. The ease and anonymity with which someone can cyberstalk their target has made potential victims of us all.  In addition to romantic relationships or marriages gone wrong, many have been cyberstalked for the most minor reasons by people they’ve angered in the past. Victims have been targeted because they broke off dating someone after one or two dates, fired an employee, were part of a business deal gone bad or didn’t accept a friend request on Facebook.

What can be done?

 We need to educate our citizenry, law enforcement and legislators about this hidden epidemic and show its devastating impact. When cyberstalking is more widely understood, legislators can provide prosecutors with laws that have teeth; and judges will be more inclined give harsher sentences that deter. Finally, there are a multitude of laws that inadvertently facilitate ISP providers remaining unaccountable for damage caused by anonymous perpetrators on their technology platforms (Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act). These can be modified in common sense ways in order to dramatically reduce the incidence of cyberstalking.

The Internet – Liberator or Captor?

This time is different than any other. The internet has become, for better or worse, our collective mind.

Now we live in maelstrom of information and images, an invisible firestorm moving between us at the speed of light. Sparks, like neurons firing,  ignite and transform us. The coursing flame brings light, even liberation, into the darkness. Communities gather around its glow. But truth is often incinerated,  and our time and tranquility burned.  Like an inexorably growing multitude of others, I am a cyberstalking survivor, so I can also speak to the blinding shadows cast by our new global behemoth.

The devastating consequences of cyberbullying on teens is finally coming to light. Legislators are considering how to author legislation that doesn’t muzzle protected speech and has real efficacy in putting an end to humiliating and horrifying online attacks. We must also turn out attention impact of cyberstalking on adults. In the United States the First Amendment, Freedom of Speech, is integral to our democracy; However, it has also become a twisted and conceptually unintended defense for internet bullies. The web has over-stretched existing laws which are arguably effectively overseeing printed speech in the “real” world. The legal options for cyberstalking victims are woefully inadequate to manage the scourge of bullying by those who abuse and pervert the best technology has to offer.

Following is a 4 minute trailer to a documentary in production about the horror and lack of legislative protections for adult victims of cyberstalking.

Sticks & Stones