Multimedia projectors have become so affordable in recent years that it is quite likely that you either own one or know someone who does. This is good news for filmmakers and photographers who are interested in achieving a unique range of eye-catching lighting effects in-camera.
The versatility of projection in creative projects has been made apparent with the development of projection mapping. If you've never heard of it, a quick YouTube search will leave you in awe. As enticing as projection mapping seems, it requires a lot of back-end work with specialized software to map an image to a specific shape. There are amazing companies that specialize in this and project customized animations onto cars, buildings, or other props for events or product launches.
When I was looking into potentially offering projection mapping to a client who wanted it for an event, I stumbled upon a number of videos online where filmmakers and photographers were using projectors in quite a novel way. I tried most of these examples myself, and the results are often very interesting. It's the kind of thing that requires a lot of tweaking and experimenting to get looking good, but if you have a projector lying around, I would highly recommend testing out some of these visual effects.
Projecting onto a person or object
This seems pretty straightforward, but if used correctly, it can become unbelievably effective. To create this effect, your projector needs to be mounted near to your camera setup and projected in the same direction that you’re shooting in. This effect can become quite interesting when the projection is being displayed on objects or people in the foreground and background. The projected content obviously plays a big role in the overall success of your final image, but it’s something that you can experiment with and use just about anything as an input source. Take a look at this example from Salomon Ligthelm:
Ligthelm once again does not disappoint with these beautiful visuals. He uses his projection shots sparingly in this edit, which is a good example of how an effect which is not exactly subtle can be included alongside a variety of different shots to compliment the overall video. He also includes some shots where he shoots into the projection with the actor/model in-between, which brings us to the next point.
Shooting a subject using projection as a backlight
This setup is as straightforward as it sounds in that your projector and camera are facing each other and your subject is in-between. Rather than telling you how your creativity is the only limiting variable in this equation, have a look at this amazing example:
This video is a behind the scenes of the effects used in the music video "See" by Tycho. It features the work of designer and director extraordinaire, Gmunk, who has an amazing gallery of work and an impressive list of high profile clients. Last year he used a very similar similar technique to create the Windows logo for Microsoft's Windows 10 launch. See the behind the scenes here. Carefully watching the BTS of the Tycho music video will give you a good indication of how he achieves this projection effect. If you didn't catch it though, you can mimic these results by placing a sheet of Perspex (with a shape cut out of it) between the camera and projector. The Perspex needs to be blacked out except for a thin transparent border around the shape which is the part that will be illuminated when lit by the rear projection. All that you need from there is some sort of animated motion graphic to display through the projector, and haze from a hazer or smoke machine to enhance the beams of light. If you have all those elements at your disposal, then the results are easily replicable to a certain extent (even if you don't shoot it with a RED). Last year I made a quick attempt to replicate this effect. I shot it with a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, and experimented with a number of basic black and white geometric animations on YouTube (such as checkerboards and spirals). The result was definitely not as good as the original, and some motion graphics worked far better than others, but this video will give you a sense of what is easily achievable:
Another example of shooting into a projection is in the music video "Moving On" by Travis:
This example takes the concept of shooting into a projection to a whole new level. It was released three years ago, but it is still a great video and source of inspiration. This music video and a behind-the-scenes video was covered in an older Fstoppers article, so take a look to find out more about how they made it.
Do you have any experiences of your own using projection in a novel way for photo or video projects? Leave your thoughts and examples in the comments below.