There are various degrees of slow motion and each brings along a set of characteristics that we associate with different types of media. Slow motion can be informative as it reveals what the human eye cannot see, whether it’s slowing down the fluttering of a dragonfly’s wings or understanding natural phenomena like lightning traveling across the sky.
Slow motion can also be mesmerizing. When something is slowed down we tend to forget the context of the motion we are observing and we marvel at the physics and anatomy of the movement itself. We focus on details that we typically wouldn’t notice.
And there is also the slow-mo replay frequently used in all sporting broadcasts to emphasize breathtaking feats of athleticism or to debate plays or showcase blunders.
It would be difficult to find any current action movie that doesn’t incorporate at least a few high frame rate moments. By slightly adjusting the speed of a beautiful composition in motion we direct the viewer to really take in the images. “In the Mood for Love” by Wong Kar-wai is full of those magical and meaningful cinematic instances. And we all know the now classic “Rushmore” slow-mo shot of the protagonist walking towards the camera. As a matter of fact, Wes Anderson’s use of slow motion in all of his films often defines pivotal moments in his films.
However, slow motion in Hollywood has quickly become a somewhat overused technique to establish tension, linger on the big explosion or simply look cool or funny. It often feels like lazy direction and cheap trickery. That being said, we recently had a great opportunity to shoot a fun project that required high-speed video recording of animals in motion in a controlled studio environment. In my next article I’ll talk about the lighting challenges we overcame and some of the lessons we learned during that shoot.
The desire to shoot as much slow motion footage as possible is understandable, but we should pick moments that add meaning to the story, and not simply shoot everything at a higher frame rate just in case we want to adjust the speed down later in post. In other words, slow motion is cool but it forces us to sacrifice image size and quality and it will add a staccato effect if the footage is sped up to a normal timeline in post.
One of the additional benefits of shooting at really high frame rates and high resolutions is that there will be an increased number of frames to choose from and to extract still frames from within the footage. There is so much data in each second of video that it becomes that much easier to find frames free of motion blur.
I can see this as a huge opportunity for wedding photographers, for example. Instead of trying to catch those two or three unique moments, they could shoot 30 seconds of high frame rates and high resolution video and then pull the frames with the most meaningful moments and expressions.
So my humble advice is to venture out into the field, rent a slow motion-capable camera like the Sony FS7 or even the Panasonic GH4 (which can shoot 96 fps at 1080p), shoot something awesome, experiment with settings on-camera and post, and see what works best for you. But keep in mind that slow motion should be used to enhance the underlying moment and better the story, not drive it.
Eduardo Angel is an independent Technology Consultant, Educator, and Emmy Award winning Visual Storyteller based in Brooklyn, NY. He currently teaches at The School of Visual Arts and the International Center of Photography, and mentors the photography program at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
Eduardo is a co-founder of the idea production company The Digital Distillery, author of popular filmmaking courses on Lynda.com, and regularly shares his thoughts on technology, photography, and cinema on his website eduardoangel.com