The Different Ways to Expertly Use and Shoot Slow Motion
Here’s how you can expertly use slow motion and high frame rate in your film and video projects. Dive in and learn to use it.
Let’s face it, slow motion is cool. There’s just something undeniably awesome about the slowing down of time. Whether it’s in a giant action sequence on an IMAX screen, or in the tiny moments of your favorite YouTube series on a smartphone, the effect of slow motion seems to always work and delight audiences of any size.
However, shooting slow motion footage can obviously be quite tricky, as it requires both the right equipment and a solid knowledge base into how slow motion — or high frame rate — videography must be conducted to look good.
So, while there are plenty of tips and tricks to read up on for how to shoot slow motion and high frame rate, we’re actually going to dive more into the theory of slow motion and the different ways you might want to utilize it in your film and video projects. Let’s get started!
Slow Motion for Action and Stunts
When one thinks of slow motion in film, their mind probably goes straight to the big-budget blockbusters and spectacular stunt sequences that happen with high stakes and in slow motion. And, that’s certainly true as slow motion is a signature look contained within these big-budget sequences. As you can see in the video demonstration above, slow motion is a great tool to make these quick actions seem dangerous and dramatic, as the audience really gets more of a chance to appreciate what’s going on.
However, actually shooting slow motion for action and stunts is perhaps one of the most technically challenging feats on any production and, in part, why we see them more often in the biggest of big-budget films versus indie features and DIY shorts. It’s important to keep in mind both safety and practicality when tackling slow motion for stunts, as you’ll need to be in control of every element of the situation to make sure your camera is properly framed, focused, and recording the exact high frame rate moves that you’ve carefully and meticulously planned.
If you’d like to explore more about this type of slow motion videography, check out The Slow Mo Guys channel, then read more from these helpful articles on stunt choreography and safety.
Slow Motion to Highlight Cinematic Moments
After high-octane slow-motion stunts, the second most common use of slow motion in film and video is to simply highlight cinematic moments and to add another level of emotional significance.
I’ve picked out the above montage of slow motion shots from filmmaker Wes Anderson’s filmography — a perfect example of how to use slow motion for dramatic effect. In fact, Anderson has even developed his own signature slow motion style, using this one specific type of shot as a climactic ending shot to almost every one of his films.
To make things even more cinematic, so to speak, these scenes all have in common the fact that they start in real time and slow down into slow motion, and they’re all shot on film. Achieving this truly cinematic look actually requires a complex film procedure referred to as “overcranking,” where a shot that begins at 24fps is manually “cranked” up to 60fps or higher.
The overall effect is quite pleasing to the eye. You can actually cheat this technique when shooting digitally by recording throughout at the higher frame rate, then going into the edit to drop frames so that a clip can begin in 24fps. Of course, the overall look might not appear just as “cinematic” as it does in the examples above.
Slow Motion to Draw Attention to Details
Another way that slow motion can be used in your projects is a small (but crucial) way to highlight certain details or draw attention to specific moments or actions. It can be subtle, but you’ll actually find this technique used in more films and shows than you might think. Just because our world moves in real time — and is recorded in as close to real time as possible — doesn’t mean you can’t cheat that in the edit.
Some examples would be a small glance from one character to the next, prolonging the movements for the passing of a note or a weapon, or slowing down time to show a character noticing a sign or a poster on a wall.
These tiny moments might play slower in the script or in the scene, but in case the coverage is lacking or if the necessary information isn’t connecting with the audience, slow motion can be a quick fix.
Slow Motion for Sports
Perhaps the most obvious place that you’ll find slow motion in film and entertainment is in sports. They, of course, use plenty of slow motion in the broadcast and highlights of actual sports games and programs, but I’m talking about in the film and television recreations of sports.
Form follows function. So, if you want to accurately portray sports in your film projects, being able to use slow motion when appropriate is absolutely necessary. It’s also a perfect way to make the hits land that much harder and the moments last that much longer. I bet whatever your favorite sports movie was growing up made heavy use of slow motion to help give scenes more depth and add more context to the actions.
However, unless you’re shooting your project on a top-of-the-line live sports camera, you’re going to face plenty of challenges when attempting to get good slow motion coverage. Sports slow motion is usually a mix of tight close-ups (for intricate actions like the hitting of a ball) and wide, convoluted shots (showcasing the energy and impact of hits and goals). If you’d like to read a bit more into sports videography and slow motion, check out these articles:
Ramping Between Slow and Fast Motion
Finally, as slow motion technology has advanced over the years, and audience expectations have changed and developed to crave more than just basic slow motion shots, the sudden ramping between slow and fast motion has pretty much become a style of its own. You can see several examples of slow-to-fast (and vice versa) shots in everything from the latest Marvel films to your favorite adventure franchises.
In many ways, slow motion for cinema-sake has become synonymous with this new style, as digital editing has made techniques like speed ramping easier to use and more precise to control. If you’re looking to add slow motion or fast motion in your projects today, your best bet might just be to get a solid HFR camera, shoot at 120fps (if possible), and then make all your slow motion and speed ramping decisions in the edit once you have everything planned and covered.
Here are some detailed articles that go into speed ramping on different NLE platforms — like Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut X — as well as additional advanced tips and tricks for these techniques.
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