Irmgard Bartenieff, in her book Body Movement, sheds light on the Laban concepts of Rising, Descending, Narrowing, Spreading, Advancing, and Retreating as a means for communicating movement along the dimensional cross (width, height, depth). These terms help to verbalize the complex 3-dimensional nature of movement within one’s kinesphere. The 2-D medium of video depends on implied motion in the Z-axis to create depth. Like the advancing and retreating components of movement, the camera techniques of zooming and focal shift can be utilized to draw attention to proximity, distance, foreground, and background. Like choreographers, videographers may also use the emotive associations of advancing and retreating to communicate intent.


Daniel Nagrin, Modern Dance pioneer and author of the article The Art of Videotaping Dance, says, “the eyes cannot zoom.” This is true. So, could it be that the camera has one up on the design of the human body? Zooming within the camera allows one to specify a point of interest. This effect can be accomplished in one of two ways, zooming in or zooming out. When zooming in, a somewhat tunneling effect maintains the center of the frame, while allowing the peripheral foreground to disappear from vision as the magnification of the lens increases. A point of interest is created as the scale of the object in the focal point (positive space) increases and the surrounding frame (negative space) decreases. Zooming out is another way of directing attention. The focal point (positive space) decreases in scale as the surrounding frame (negative space) increases. Bull’s Eye!

Zooming In (Hallway and Bigger to Smaller Phrases)

Focal Shift

A video camera’s clarity of detail is directly related to the distance between the lens and the subject(s) within the frame. When we set a manual focus on the camera we are specifying at what distance from the camera we desire the ideal image clarity. We tend to think that footage that is “in focus” is good, and footage that is “out of focus” is bad. This is not always the case. Utilizing the ability to shift the clarity of detail within the frame gives the videographer another creative option for designing a viewing experience. By manually changing the focus feature of the camera one may blur objects/performers at certain distances from the camera, while bringing objects/performers at other distances from the camera into clear focus. The human eye can be operated in a slightly similar fashion. It is possible to use the eyes in a manner that results in a “general focus,” one that brings into awareness one’s entire surroundings that includes peripheral vision. Alternately, the vision of surroundings may be diminished by using a “specific focus,” one in which the eyes focus on a single point in space. One may think of focus shift as selective clarity, or detail, within the frame. This effect is dependent on the focal length of the lens, focus, and aperture setting.

Focal Shift (Foreground and Background Figures)

“Focus directs the attention of the viewer by placing important subjects in focus and less important subjects out of focus. Changing the focus, called rolling or pulling focus, can also guide the attention of the viewer from one subject to another.”

From Single-camera Video Production by Robert B. Musburger