Rack Focus

Posted on Oct 15, 2019

A viewer is constantly informed by what a camera looks at and how things are framed. Videos often include some sort of camera movement that helps to build mood or purpose. There are many techniques used to help portray different emotions within the language of film. A small but ever vital one is the rack focus.

Rack focus involves changing the depth of focus from one thing or person to another. This is a common technique across media, but is used in a variety of effects. It is so common, in fact, on film sets there is a specific job title for the one who adjusts the lens focus while shooting: the focus puller.


The above example is from Casino Royale (2006). The red lines are framing references following the “rule of thirds”. Objects and people are typically aligned with the intersections. The focus starts on the martini glass then shifts so that what was in the foreground is out of focus and sharpened is Bond, observing the glass.

In the scene, Bond realizes he has been poisoned. We see the glass, implying that it is important. Here, it was the source of the poison. The focus shift then allows the character on screen to reach this same revelation, and does so without having to cut between the character and what they are observing. By framing them together and altering focus, there is more of a visceral experience for the watcher.


The next example comes from Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and is a double rack focus. The initial focus is on Peter’s arm as his spider-sense goes off. We see the hairs on his arm stand up before the shot refocuses to Peter noticing the change. The shot then re-focuses again as Peter turns to see the invading ship above the New York skyline. In a single shot, a lot has been portrayed. We know that Peter’s spider-sense is working, that he is surprised by his physical reaction, and what caused it to occur.


The rack focus can be used in a number of other ways. The only limit is the filmmaker’s imagination. Establishing emotion and the inner thought process of characters is important in creating a connection for the viewer. The rack focus allows different levels of meaning to be created without jarring edits or incongruent shots.

If you want to know more about camera techniques, or you want to start your own video project, contact JP Video Pro today.