Use film camera effects to add film magic to your videos.
Heighten the artistry, efficiency and emotional depth of your work with techniques popularised by the world’s best directors.
What are in-camera effects?
In-camera effects are special effects rendered solely through creative use of the camera at the time of recording. With the development of powerful digital video cameras, filmmakers can achieve some of these old-school film effects in new-school ways, both while recording and in post-processing.
Dazzle with a dolly zoom.
Developed with film cameras for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the dolly zoom involves changing focus smoothly from long shot to close-up (or close-up to long shot) while the camera moves on a track away from (or toward) that subject. The subject stays the same size while either the background or foreground gets bigger and more detailed, disrupting the viewer’s spatial perception. (This effect requires a DSLR or other video camera with a manual focus ring.)
Vertigo’s famous dolly zoom shot captures the disorientation Jimmy Stewart’s character feels as he looks down the stairwell of a church tower. In Jaws, when the police chief realises there’s a shark in the water, the camera zooms out while the dolly pushes in, and the world seems to shrink around him. The effect serves to highlight the chief’s horrified realisation. “The character seems to get bigger in the frame and that aligns the viewer with that character and that character’s inner world,” says filmmaker and writer David Andrew Stoler.
Dolly zooms are difficult shots because the camera has to move while the lens refocuses with just the right timing. It may take a lot of practice and teamwork to get it right. If you can’t get it right, try doing it in post-production. It’s easy to use Adobe Premiere Pro to increase or decrease scale in the Video Effects section.
Make a scene crackle with rack focus.
Rack focus is a special type of shot that can quickly add emotion and suspense to a scene. With this move, the camera’s focal length changes so a blurry background or foreground becomes clear. This shot also gives the director control over the viewer’s attention, as the subject that comes into focus will inevitably draw the viewer’s eyes. In Casino Royale, a rack focus efficiently draws the eye from James Bond to a broken wine glass on the table. The viewer sees the glass a moment after Bond does, without the need for an insert shot of the glass.
Like the dolly zoom, a rack focus can be challenging to get right. Big-budget films even have professional “focus pullers” on set to adjust the focus ring for certain shots while the cinematographer holds and/or pans the camera. When you try it yourself, director and editor Jonathon Pawlowski recommends using cinema lenses instead of photo lenses. “With a photo lens, the increments between focus marks are smaller so it’s more difficult to land in focus. Cinema lenses have witness marks with measurements and greater distances between them. It’s easier to find focus and you can vary the speed of your focus pull,” Pawlowski says. With some practice and some acceptance of a little imperfection, you can save yourself from having to do extra camera set-up.
Distort perception with forced perspective.
Ever wonder how they made Will Ferrell look so big compared to Bob Newhart in Elf? Or how Gandalf could tower over the hobbits in The Lord of the Rings? The answer, most often, is forced perspective. This is a technique by which filmmakers take advantage of the two-dimensional nature of film cameras to produce an optical illusion. Because something far away appears smaller than something close up, if you want to make a character appear elfin compared to another character, just lower the aperture to minimise the depth of field and keep the camera low to the ground. Then place the first character further away from the camera. Just how far away you should place them requires some math. If you have one subject ten feet from the camera and you want them to appear half the size of a second subject, cut those 10 feet in half to determine how far from the camera the second subject needs to be.
To pull off this effect, your props need to be positioned just right and your actors need to look not at each other but at the point in space where the other actor seems to be from the perspective of the camera.
Another way to make a subject appear bigger or smaller than they are involves using a green screen and the Masking and Tracking tools in Premiere Pro. Simply shoot the subject in front of the green screen and then layer them over background footage.
Do cool things with double exposure.
Double exposure is the layering of one image or video over another and it’s a great way to achieve a highly stlylised or ghostly effect, perfect for music videos. While digital cameras often have a Multiple Exposure mode for still pictures, video double exposure has to be done in post-production. There are a few ways to make a double exposure in Premiere Pro, but here’s the easiest:
Drag and drop two clips into your timeline. One of the clips should be your outline clip. It should have strong contrast between the subject and background.
Boost the highlights and deepen the shadows of your outline clip to increase that contrast. This will allow the details of the second (fill) layer to show through the dark areas.
Click your fill clip, go to Effects and find the Track Matte Key effect. Click and drag that to your fill clip.
In Effect Controls, specify the track you want to matte onto (the one with the outline clip) and then choose to composite using Matte Luma. That will insert your fill layer into the bright parts of your outline clip. If you want to reverse the effect and fill in the shadows of the outline clip, click Reverse in the Effect Controls.
Video featuring artist Paul Trillo from Adobe Create.
For a few stunning examples of double exposure (and other impressive effects), watch a video featuring the work of filmmaker and video artist Paul Trillo.
Eliminate (or avoid) rolling shutter.
If you’re shooting something that moves really quickly, like the rotors of a helicopter, you might notice strange effects (bending or wobbling) upon playback. This effect is caused by the camera’s sensor capturing the image from the top down. Though your shutter speed is fast, it’s not instantaneous, so it captures the rotors at slightly different points in time.
The rule of thumb for counteracting this is to set your shutter at twice the speed of your frame rate. (Frame rate is measured in the number of frames that appear in a second.) Cinematic frame rate is 24 frames per second (fps), so you should shoot at a shutter speed of 1/48th of a second. This will avoid the rolling shutter effect. “But,” warns photographer and videographer Kenton Waltz, “there is a natural amount of motion blur that we see in our own eyes and you want to maintain some of that so the image doesn’t look too crisp.”
Another method for avoiding rolling shutter is to alter camera position or angle. You can also shoot with a slower shutter speed, which may cause enough motion blur to mask the rolling shutter effect. Or you can fix it in post-production: try the Rolling Shutter Repair effect in Premiere Pro.
If you’re shooting with an iPhone or Android smartphone, you have other special effects at your disposal. Try the filters in Adobe Premiere Rush that give you the different looks of retro and vintage film.
Learn about using other special effects like light leaks, VHS effects, glitch effects and speed lines in Adobe After Effects. The more tools you add to your videographer’s toolkit, the quicker and smarter you’ll be able to work.
Do more with Adobe Premiere Pro.
Make visually stunning videos virtually anywhere — for film, TV and web.
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