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Distractions in videos come in many ways. In the theater, directors will use clutter on the screen to distract the viewer, or to help convey chaos. Leaving lots of people or things or lights or miscellaneous movement in the frame can help a movie the same way a magician uses her hands or props to distract her audience while doing a magic trick. It’s a big part of movie magic.

This is the sort of magic that you don’t want in your eLearning video course.

If your goal is to teach, instruct, and convey information to your learners, then you need as little clutter, distraction, and chaos as possible. A pet peeve of mine is when a course video, or any sort of instructional video, has loads of activity or competing visuals that distract from the presenter.

I understand, sometimes you just can’t control a busy background. “We had to shoot here” is a very common issue. That is fine. Something that can help a lot with cutting down that distracting background is shrinking your depth of field.

Depth of field is the amount of space that stays in focus through your camera. This can range from infinity (everything being in focus) to a couple of millimeters. The trick is understanding how your camera works and knowing what adjustments to make.

Here are a few examples of busy backgrounds, and how adjusting your depth of field can help to tame them.

I had to find the busiest place in the office to find a shot that was this distracting behind our own Jessica Diamond, a Project Manager for our Custom Solutions team. People moving around behind her, desks filled with personal items, phones, water bottles. All of this is for sure representative of an office space but does nothing to assist in keeping the learner engaged in the subject of the video.

With one quick adjustment to my camera’s F-stop I was able to blur out most of the background for this video. Movement is still fairly noticeable, but the majority of the items are no longer as distracting.

Because I had the space available, I stepped back several feet and adjusted my focal length to 200 millimeters. This shrunk the amount of background that is on camera and allowed for an even shallower depth of field.

You can use this technique when you have limited background space that is acceptable. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

Here there is a nice red-orange backdrop in the background, but it’s small enough that I am seeing lots of bleed on the side. There are chairs, picture frames, and other things that are cluttering up the background. By stepping back, lengthening my focal length (and moving my F-stop down as well) I was able to get a much more acceptable background in this same shot, without moving Jessica.

So far these examples have involved me having loads of space to move in. Jessica is 50+ feet away from the back wall in both instances, and I was able to move another 20 feet away from her. Sometimes you don’t have that luxury, and you end up with something like this.

You can move around and make a few of the same changes here to improve that background still. Here’s what happened when I had Jessica step 4 feet away from the backdrop, and dropped my F-stop.

This doesn’t entirely fix the problem, but it makes it much less distracting. But if I am able to back up another 10 feet, you get a much nicer look.

I’d like to take a moment to point out that if you are going to be speaking with a green screen, or with cutout people, you should do something similar with your backgrounds. For example, if you have your cutout person (or green screen presenter) presenting in a classroom you may be tempted to just paste in an image in the background.

That’s fine enough. This particular picture is nice and calm in the background. But if you put just a little bit of blur on the background, you can feel the focus shift so much stronger to your presenter.

What are your thoughts? Does this seem easy enough to do? If you are using video in eLearning, it’s worth a little extra work to make sure you are keeping your learners’ focus.

Using lots of video in your eLearning projects? Check out our other video-related blogs:

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