Using The Split Focus Diopter Effect

Have you ever wanted to have two subjects focused in camera but at two different depths of field? Well it’s actually an old trick called the Split Focus Diopter Effect. Here’s a video shot by Shanks FX who explains how to use this effect to enhance your videos and the history behind it. 

As you noticed in the video above a split field diopter is an glass attachment is placed onto the lens of your camera making half the image appear near-sighted, while focusing the foreground and background. Using the split focus diopter effect has been used in the last 50 years of filmmaking. Directors like John Carpenter, Brian De Palma, Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino have used this trick to create forced perspective in their scenes.

You maybe asking, Tony why is this cool? If you’ve seen the movie, Pulp Fiction, we see Ving Rhames character chasing Bruce Willis’ character through the streets of Los Angeles. Both characters have gunshot wounds and are bleeding out as one  tries to kill the other. Bruce Willies decides to run through a large alleyway and takes cover behind the corner of a building. He rests for a moment, breathing heavily, and his face is in focus. Ving Rhames stumbles through the alleyway  and falls to the ground trying to catch is breath, he is also in focus, even at a distance!

This powerful scene utilizes the split diopter effect well because it shows the relationship between two main subjects; both characters are vulnerable and fighting for survival. I would to love to see any filmmakers use the split diopter effect in their short or feature films. This effect build tension between characters, ideas, and beliefs. It’s a simple method for sharp cinematography and good storytelling.  If any of you filmmakers want to take a crack at it, then please send us the video links in the comments below so we can showcase them on our website and social media. 

Joey Shanks has a nice following on YouTube and known for doing tutorials on quality practical special and visual effects, cinematography, and camera work. I found this video on Twitter and instantly fell in love with his work. You guys should check him out at Shanks FX on YouTube.  As always remember to subscribe to our blog for more articles, tips, and Cinema Spice news.

Photo above is a frame from Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs”

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About the author

Tony is a Brigham Young University-Idaho graduate with a Bachelors Degree in Communication. He has experience in journalism and video production. One of his favorite movies is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. His favorite superhero is Spider-Man. He lives in Rexburg, Idaho with his lovely wife.

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