Camera Tricks, Part Two
Long Beach Mississippi USA
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In the article Camera Tricks, Part One, we looked at warming and cooling your image to gain a desired result. In Part Two, Jim Allen discusses softening or diffusing your image and a few other special effects that you may like to try. For most of these, it will be necessary for you to have a camera that allows you to perform manual white balance, manual irising, and manual shutter speed adjustments. With some of these ideas, the automatic functions will automatically overcome the effect you are trying for.
First lets take a look at softening or diffusing your image. For years, professional portrait still photographers and
professional motion picture camera operators have known and understood something many video professionals don't. Some people look much better and the psychology of the picture is enhanced
with various degrees of softening or diffusion. For instance; if you are shooting an elderly CEO or if you are shooting most women, the talent’s image can be enhanced with diffusion.
Diffusion tends to help soften and hide the wrinkles and blemishes your talent may find unpleasant. Diffusion also helps to promote the psychology of your work by giving the viewer a feeling
of pleasantness and beauty. You can easily see this for yourself by setting up an experiment using any of the suggestions below. With a middle aged or older talent carefully light the subject
with a key light and fill. Shoot for a minute or two without any diffusion then shoot with diffusion and edit the two scenes together so that you can see each scene alternately. Another way
might be to use two similar cameras and two monitors, one camera without diffusion and one with. Compare the two.
With any of the effects I've mentioned in these articles, it's important that you be able to control the amount of the
effect. A little bit goes a long way. Experiment, to find out for yourself.
Along with diffusion, the color of the material you choose will also lend to the effect. For instance; choosing a white
material will tend to diffuse and raise your black level. If you choose a black material, then you will get diffusion with little to no change in the blacks. Again, experiment and see for
yourself. Check to see if your iris setting changed, check the picture to see if your blacks look black, check to see if you see a flaring of the highlights of your image. All of these things
can be useful or un-useful depending on the situation. The overall “feel” of your production should determine which suggestion you use.
- Carefully remove your video lens and secure a single layer of panty hose to the back of the lens. You cannot put panty
hose on the front of the lens because you will probably see the hosiery. I've tried black panty hose with great success. Other colors you might want to try are white and peach. Peach is
similar to skin tones and help to color the overall picture to make the subject more pleasing. If you are looking for that once-in-a-lifetime effect then go with some of the wilder panty
hose colors available on the market. By the way, many professional motion picture Directors of Photography prefer Fogal 110 Noblesse –210 Noir panty hose If you don't want to spend over $40
for a pair then by the cheap stuff at your grocer. None of your viewers nor most DP’s will be able to tell the difference.
- Using a clear piece of plate glass about the size of a filter, spray paint it any color you want. This gets a bit
messy and you have to do it where there isn't a breeze. Lay the glass flat on the floor and spray the paint up in the air directly above the glass then move the paint can as the mist
lightly falls to the ground. Some of it will fall to the glass. Repeat this until you are satisfied. Because it is paint mist, it should dry rapidly allowing you to test it on your camera.
Do several of these in different densities to give you options on your next shoot. As with the panty hose, you may want to experiment with different colors.
- This one I dislike, but it may give you the desired effect. You can actually reduce the enhancement on many
professional video cameras. The reason I dislike this is that you can never repeat the effect exactly and you may never get the electronic control back to its factory setting. If you decide
to do this, I strongly advise that you consult a qualified video engineer before proceeding. Some of the more expensive professional cameras have menus and remote boxes that allow you more
control. I still tend to shy away from this and prefer the panty hose and filter route instead.
- Many non-linear editors have software functions built in that will soften your picture. This process usually takes
considerable time but will give you the right amount of diffusion for your whole project. Experiment, before you decide this route.
While all these will give you similar results, each has important characteristics that the others don't. Over time, you
should try all of these in a controlled environment, then experiment again on different shoots. You'll quickly learn which you prefer.
Other interesting effects. Here is a couple of tools you might find useful. Along with these, you need to also
familiarize yourself with post-production software that will also give you interesting effects.
- One thing film cameras have over video cameras is a limited depth-of-field. I find a limited
depth-of-field very useful. When I shoot something I want the viewer to give all their attention to the talent or object of most importance. To do this, I sometimes concentrate the
brightest light to that subject, I frame the subject to make it most important, and I make it the subject with the sharpest focus. Going back to Video 101, depth-of field and the iris
opening are indirectly proportional. As the iris gets larger (moves to the smaller numbers) the depth-of-field (DOF) gets smaller. I force my iris to 1.4, 2 or 2.8 to give me the limited
- Reducing the amount of overall light in the picture – but this tends to make your image look muddy.
- Use neutral density (ND) filters which reduces the amount of light coming into the lens. I have 0.3 ND, 0.6
ND and 1.2 ND filters to do this. These three are equivalent to a 1 stop, 2 stop and 4 stop reduction in the amount of light. The solution is a good one but to do it effectively you'll
have to spend several hundred dollars.
- Increase the shutter speed of the camera. This requires the iris to open to allow more light.
- On newer professional cameras you can set the GAIN switch to give you –3dB and –6dB gain. Negative gain is
the same as using ND filters without the expense.
I prefer using negative gain and ND filters over shutter speed adjustments because I find the strobe effect of a large
shutter speed distasteful. But in a pinch, I'll do whatever necessary to get the job done. If you are careful, you may substitute ND lighting gel for the ND filters to obtain a similar
effect. Remember though, lighting gels are not optically clear and may cause distortion to your image. You'll need a good color monitor close by.
- I've always loved the mirage effect when you shoot in the desert. The heat waves coming off the road or
hot desert floor really look neat. I found that you can mimic this by holding a Sterno in front of and under your lens. The heat rising off the Sterno will mimic the heat waves of the
desert. Be careful not to heat up your lens or camera with the Sterno.
These tricks are easy and effective, if you are careful. Some of them are debatable and some downright cheap. My mantra
has always been to do whatever necessary to get the desired effect without sacrificing the image. With these ideas and the ones you discover you should be able to inexpensively do the work
that needs to be done.
Did you miss part one of this article? Find it here.
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