May 21, 2019

The Rack Focus Shot: Practical Uses and Visual Examples [Video]

Rack Focus Camera Shot
The rack focus is one of the most essential camera moves for any cinematographer. But how should you rack focus and why should you do it? 

Tell me if this sounds familiar, you're watching a show or movie and you notice a subtle change in the depth of field that gets your eyes to notice something new in the frame. Yes, you just experienced a rack focus. Or you have a cataract. I'm hoping it's just the focus though. 

Rack focuses are common in film and television. They're easy ways to draw attention from one object to another in the scene. 

But how do you rack focus, and are there better times than others to use them? 

Today we're going to go over the rack focus, see some examples, and learn more about how to use it in our own projects. But before we get started, check out this helpful video we made that covers all these subjects and more! 

Rack Focus Definition

A rack focus is the practice of changing the focus of the lens during a shot. The term can refer to small or large changes of focus which play with the depth of field.

How to Rack Focus 

The first step is to get a camera with a manual focus. This can be a film camera or digital. The only thing that matters here is that you can pull focus from one f-stop to another. You'll probably want to lock your camera down onto a tripod to keep things smooth. All you have to do is pick the two objects you want to pull focus between. Sometimes it's easier to mark the focus ring with gaff tape or a torn post-it so you don't have to eyeball it. 

Then you press record and pull the focus between both objects or people. 

Check out this scene from The Graduate where we rack focus from daughter to mother. 

Rack Focus Examples in Film and Television 

As we mentioned in the opening, the rack focus can be used in a number of different ways. Take this shot from Casino Royale, where we see what does and doesn't get James Bond's attention. 

What about using the rack focus for tension? 

In The Host, we see this beautiful hallway shot. The rack focus shows someone calling after our lead as they walk down the hallway. We know they can hear them, but they choose to keep going. 

Or what about using a rack focus as establishing shots to set up a scene? 

In Young Victoria, we reveal the opulence and wealth of the great hall with rack focuses between crystal stemware and silver spoons. It legitimately sets the scenes and shows where the characters' eyes go as they dine. 

What's next? Learn 50+ Camera shots, Angles, and Movements

There are so many camera movements and camera angles; it can be hard to keep track. To make film and television like the masters, you need to practice and learn the various camera movements, angles, shots, and tools. But how can you know if you’re hitting all the basics without a comprehensive checklist?

We put our heads together and came up with this list that should help any filmmaker master the basics and take on the industry.

Click the link for more!      

Your Comment

2 Comments

For you film history buffs, check out Richard Rush's "Getting Straight". He mastered the rack back in the 60s.

May 21, 2019 at 8:35PM

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Reply
Craig Railsback
Director, Director of Photography
8

As a screenwriter, I appreciated this tutorial.

May 27, 2019 at 3:57PM, Edited May 27, 3:57PM

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Melissa Milich
Writer, Development
8