Focus on Focus

Like any beginner I made numerous mistakes when I was shooting my first short film last year. If I could go back and redo some of the scenes, there are two main things I would make amends for. First thing is I would use ND filters to fight off daylight in order to get a shallower depth of field in some of the footage. Even though I realized too many details in some scenes were in focus at the time of shooting, the idea of using filters simply didn’t cross my mind. I guess we all learn as we go along. This issue of keeping the right things in focus is related to the second thing I wish I could go back and do better: I would work more with manual focus and rely less on the camera’s auto focus. 

Now, given the fact that this was my first production and that I am totally new to filmmaking, I shouldn’t beat myself up too much. A significant portion of the footage was done using a small gimbal too, which meant I sometimes actually had to use the auto focus. (No, a follow focus system wasn’t part of the gear and certainly not motivated from an economic standpoint since it was a zero-budget production. I’m not even sure I would have been able to use it since I did all the practical bits as a one-man-band.) But had I taken my time, and practiced and rehearsed more, there are several scenes where I could have used manual focus even when using the gimbal. I could also have done more handheld shooting, which would also have demanded more preparations in the form of practice.

Shooting “Difference/Indifference”
(photo by Jonna Trygg)

When filming my second short film in January this year, my plan was to use the opportunity to learn from past mistakes and begin my explorations in learning to focus manually while shooting handheld.

Part of the Craft; Part of the Storytelling

To pull focus manually in action while shooting video is certainly a central skill in the craftsmanship of cinematography, and so it is one of the main things I should focus getting better at (no pun intended). The way focus is pulled is also an important part of telling a story, as is allows you to direct the viewer’s attention in a deliberate way.

Four Useful Tips

As I’m getting to the end of this post I want to leave you with a recommendation. Canadian director and cinematographer Mark Bone has a useful video on YouTube where he gives four quick tips on how to improve your manual focusing skills. The advice is hands-on and, in my mind, inspiring! In the video Bone talks about the following points: Rehearse, Find focus reference, Use small movements, Practice. You can find his video here.

I wish I’d come across this video before I started to work on my film last year, but I guess better late than never! But as we all know, making mistakes can be an important part of any learning process.

One super fun practice tip Bone recommends is to try and keep focus on a swing going towards and away from you. The other day I went out to try this out myself, and I captured part of the practice session in the video below. It was difficult and I had to adjust the speed of turning the lens focus as the swing changed speed. As you can see, the result is not the best, but here and there I managed to follow the swinging kettlebell! (I don’t know why there is a jittery movement (or warp) of the image in the video, but it might have something to do with the image stabilizer being on.)

Thanks for reading!

The Beginning of Something

Towards the end of October 2020 I wrapped up a year of dedicated hard work in completing my first short film – a visual music album telling a linear story across four chapters. Some ideas I had for this film came to life way better than I could have imagined. This positive outcome is balanced against the fact that some ideas I had in mind couldn’t be realized at all, but on the whole the end result exceeded my expectations. It isn’t at all a perfect or flawless production but I am proud of having pushed things so far in crafting it with so few resources and with so little prior knowledge about filmmaking (or how to even use a digital film camera properly). I suppose my greatest resources were sheer stubbornness and an ambitious approach paired with time and no one to tell me when the work was done or good enough. And after I finally decided I could (sort of) accept this production to have reached the finish line, the past year has ignited something in me which is still running.

I’m now sold to the idea of making film with comparatively limited resources and making most of what I’ve got to tell the stories I feel I want to tell.

The burdensome process of making this first film opened up new doors to me in terms of where I see myself having a creative output. It led me onto a path where I came to appreciate and cultivate a passion for the kind of minimalist filmmaking that I was pouring hours into, and I came to realize this was a really suitable way for me to channel my ideas and creativity. I’m now sold to the idea of making film with comparatively limited resources and making most of what I’ve got to tell the stories I feel I want to tell. And at the same time it is also a way for me to disentangle myself from the all too common mindset that keeps us busy wanting new and ”better” gear in the belief that it is the solution to making us become better at our craft. Having said this, I am fully aware that we all need some gear to make things happen. Rest assured – I will return to these things in future posts.

At the time I’m writing this, I’m in the process of making my second short film. Once it’s finally ready to be released for others to experience I want it to have a home. Instead of only putting it on YouTube or similar platforms I want to place it in a context representative to me and my own ideas and interests surrounding creativity. This is one of the reasons I decided to set up this space called Modus Krea, which will serve as a home-base for any work I decide to put out in the future – be it films or photography or other forms of visual expression. Given the experiences I had during my own creative journey last year, I ’m also making an attempt at using Modus Krea as a platform to further explore and reflect on a minimalist approach to filmmaking through writing about it. The purpose of this writing will be to learn through channeling thoughts and ideas, and to hopefully inspire and motivate potential readers to find ways of expressing their creativity with limited resources. What I have in mind is mainly reflective writing, maybe on the quasi-philosophical side, thoughts on gear use, craftsmanship, creating film as a one-man-band (yes women are included in this too), message in art and more.

Another thing you will find here on Modus Krea are little photo exhibitions. The aim is to put something new up every few months or so, depending on what kind of material I can get my hands on. Initially the contributors will likely be limited to friends and other fairly close contacts, but going forward there is no certain way to predict what the evolution of Modus Krea will look like. Perhaps the order of things will stay in the whereabouts of where this whole thing starts, with a number of friends openly sharing their art and love for the creative process? If so, that’s perfectly fine!

Whoever read this far, know this: your presence is much appreciated, and I sure hope you’ll return here sometime soon! Don’t hesitate to comment and participate in discussion. It would surely be wonderful if Modus Krea could evolve into something looking like a smaller community where we can all support and inspire each other to cultivate our passion for photography and filmmaking. Please make sure to read the Modus Kodex before engaging.

Many thanks for checking in!