DSLR Guide, created by Simon Cade, is one of my go-to resources for all things film and cinema. With almost a half-million subscribers and over 21 million views, his channel is an awesome resource for anyone interested in becoming a film maker, particularly those who are DIY-savvy or on a budget.In his latest post, he provides ten helpful tips for shooting slow motion using a basic Canon T3i Rebel and a DJI Phantom 4, which can shoot 120 frames per second.
Tip #1: Understand Your Subject
Slow motion is all about movement, and certain subjects do not lend themselves to being interesting in slow motion. In other words, just because your subject is moving doesn’t mean it will look pleasing slowed down. A boat meandering through a canal from 100 yards away is probably not going to look very interesting slowed down. Conversely, splashing water on someone’s face from 3 feet way could provide a unique take on an otherwise ordinary scene.
Tip #2: Select a Frame Rate
Most cinema is shot at 24 frames per second or the equivalent of 24 pictures compressed into one second. Virtually any DSLR will shoot in this format. However, if you dig into the menu, you may find your camera offers other frame rates such as 60 fps, or possibly 120. Spreading out 120 pictures at the standard playback rate of 24 fps will take longer to view than real time, resulting in a slower-motion image. Important to note here is that while most cameras will shoot at higher frame rates, this is generally at the expense of reduced resolution.
Tip #3: Think about Light
Shooting at higher frames rates requires a faster shutter speed to compensate, and, therefore, the sensor will not pick up as much light. The general rule of thumb is that you should set your shutter speed at twice your frame rate. Therefore, shooting at 24 frames per second requires a 1/50-second shutter speed, and shooting at 120 frames per second requires a 1/240-second shutter speed. Be careful, though: some lights types (such as fluorescent) appear to flicker when recorded at higher frame rates.
Tip #4: Using Slow Motion for Drama
Slow motion is commonly used to stop or slow time, which adds drama and intensity to a scene such as boy meets girl or love at first sight.
Tip #5: Using Slow Motion for Action
More commonly used in today’s cinema, slow motion is used for enhancing action scenes to make them appear more epic. Most stunts would just be a blur if they happened in real time. Think "The Matrix" or "Bad Boys." Slowing it down gives us a chance to appreciate the gravity of the scene.
Tip #6: Death
Often, the death of a character in a movie is not given any priority: the death occurs, and this scene transitions into to the next. However, in certain instances, the death of a main character or their impending death will be played in slow motion, which adds to the gravity of the situation. We may hear their final words or see them struggling to survive. This is not a rule – nor does it have to be followed – but if you think back to some of the character deaths in your favorite movies, it is likely they were shot in this fashion.
Tip #7: Alternate Reality
One of Cade's favorite uses of slow motion is from the film, "Inception," where slow motion is used to convey the passage of time between the real world and the dream. As filmmakers, you can employ slow motion to convey a sense of detachment from reality that helps your viewers distinguish what is real versus what is perceived based on your storyline.
Tip #8: Fear
The example given here highlights a scene from "Terminator 2," when Sarah Connor meets the Arnold Schwarzenegger (a.k.a. T2) for the first time. As T2 exits the elevator that Sarah was trying to reach so badly only moments before, the scene immediately slows down as we realize the sheer terror of this moment for her. The sense of fear is invoked primarily by her actions and facial expressions, but the moment slowed down brings a sense of anxiety to the situation that purposefully enhances the scene.
Tip #9: Including Sound
In almost every instance of slow motion being used in professional cinema, you will notice that the underlying sound is also included and also slowed down. Cade recommends using an on-camera microphone such as the Rode Video Mic Pro or an external recorder like the Tascam DR05. You can then bring the audio into your editing suite and slow it down relative to the video clip, which will lower the pitch for some interesting effects. The film, "300," is a great example of slow motion used in action scenes with audio that has been modified.
Tip #10: Use Carefully!
Most modern cameras can shoot in some variation of slow motion. And while slow motion is something that viewers in today’s world have grown to love, it doesn’t mean it should be used in every situation. This is likened to the use of pepper. Pepper goes well with a lot of dishes, but that doesn’t mean it goes on everything, like bananas. Have fun with it, but be conscious of your decision to use it and what you are trying to represent through its use.