Low Budget Film and Video Tips 1: In-Camera Video Effects

PHOTO CREDIT: Steven Spielberg, IMDB

Create a Great Film or Video for Less Money: Helpful tips for creating convincing in-camera visual effects on low budget film and video projects.

With the advent of online video hosting engines, reality television, and the myriads of eager students flooding film and art schools, nearly every amateur with a camera believes that he or she can become the next Oscar-winning director of the year. However, few students and beginning film auteurs have the multi-million dollar budgets of Hollywood film studios and so-called independent studios. Expensive cameras, special effects labs, music production, and video editing software can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, not to mention actors, lighting equipment, sound equipment, etc. However, being low-budget does open up the possibilities of creativity and innovation.

There are many ways to imitate costly computer effects in-camera without having to spend the extra cash.

Create your own camera filters using gauze, different textured materials, or even large plastic sandwich bags filled with hair gels of various colors. Be creative - shooting through glass containers, an aquarium, or even a magnifying glass. Shots through a waterfall, underwater, or even in a fog are great, but be sure to do everything possible to protect your equipment. Dust, sand, and water can destroy your camera.

Use reflective surfaces to your advantage. Great cinematographers have used everything from car mirrors to sliding glass doors to a soap bubble to create intricate looks in camera. Do not be afraid to experiment.

Work with your lighting crew to create a distinct look for the film that uses budgetary limitations to the film's advantage. The cheap video camera look is popular right now, as is using 8 mm, and mock documentary styles of filming. 

If you do have someone on your film or video crew that can create convincing visual effects or computer animation, use their expertise. Take a hint from the experts, though. Limit the use of these special visual effects for climactic moments in the film or video. It is better to have one or two truly great moments that catch the audience at their most vulnerable moment, than to attempt to sprinkle dozens of low-budget effects that only emphasize budgetary weaknesses.

In JAWS, Spielberg only showed the actual shark at key moments

Plan to have the film digitally black and white? Then emphasize shadows and highlights during the shoot, with dramatic makeup looks that will pop out. Black and white films are more aesthetically pleasing the higher the contrast. Be sure to keep your shadows as pure as possible, and have your highlights truly pop out important elements in your film, such as a character's profile, an important clue in a mystery heist, or even the only escape route in an adventure film.

What are some in-camera effects that you use? Do you record using your smartphone or other non-camera device? Share your favorite tricks in the comments below. 


With over fifteen years experience in music, film, and the arts, Sabrina Pena Young can provide you with the insight you need to develop your creative dreams into a reality. 

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