5 Simple Cinematography Hacks

Today’s filmmakers are always coming up with creative ways to capture a new look. Here are 5 simple, fun, and inexpensive ways to create special effects in-camera using common household items. This is a great exercise for expanding your DIY mindset and practicing on-the-fly problem solving – essential skills for any filmmaker. Several of these are applicable to photographers, too.

5 Simple Cinematography Hacks/Tricks for DIY Special Effects

It’s hard to predict all the tools you’ll need to get a last-minute special shot. Here are some ideas to try when you’re on set or on location with minimal gear, props, or post production time. Share your own fun hacks and on-set discoveries in the comments below!


Cinematography Trick #1: Achieve Dolly-Like Movement with Furniture Pads

Put furniture pads on the feet of your tripod. The tripod will now slide with ease on a wood or cement floor. You’ve now created an easy dolly. Push or pull the tripod to create beautiful sliding shots that will knock the socks off your viewers. Relatedly, you can use a rubber band to achieve smoother pans.

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Cinematography Trick #2: Use Steam from a Kettle to Create Haze

Boil water until you get a nice flow of steam out of your kettle. Set up your camera shot. Bring the tea kettle in front of your camera so the steam is flowing in front of your lens. This will create a beautiful hazy look in your shots.

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Cinematography Trick #3: Create the Illusion of Flying Dust Particles with a Cheese Grater

Setup your camera and your shot. Once ready to roll, rub a tissue against a cheese grater. Tiny dust particles will start to fall in front of your lens, creating a beautiful effect in your shots.


Cinematography Trick #4: Make a Super Fast Doorway Keyhole

Cut a hole the shape of a keyhole in a dark piece of paper or dark napkin. Set up your camera and shot. Place this hole just in front of your lens. The paper should block the edges of your frame, making it appear as though you are shooting through a small keyhole.


Cinematography Trick #5: Produce Ethereal Blur with a Drinking Glass

Set up your camera and shot. Grab a drinking glass. Slowly move the glass in front of your lens as your camera rolls. You’ll suddenly have stylized blur in your shots.

Special Effects Gear

There are also some fun gear items you can rent from that offer special effects features:

• The Quasar Science Q25R Rainbow LED Kit gives you a couple of 2′ LED tubes that can not only emit just about every color there is, but they can also produce lighting effects to make it look like there is a fire in your scene, a cop car approaching, or paparazzi firing off flashes. You can also get these effects from the Litepanels Gemini 2×1 Bi-Color LED Soft Panel.

• If you’re already using 114mm front diameter lenses, you can use the Letus35 AnamorphX Adapter to provide a 1.33x anamorphic squeeze. This will bring 16:9 cameras to an industry-standard 2.39:1 and will form the beautiful oval-shaped bokeh that is unique to anamorphic lenses.

• The Kessler 3′ CineSlider with Kessler Parallax System is a mini dolly that not only does traditional slide functions but provides fixed-point shooting capabilities for a cool parallax effect.

What other fun hacks have you created on set in a pinch? Share them with your fellow filmmakers in the comments below!

Kellan Reck is a video editor and cinematographer for the Boston Red Sox, producing and building content for the team's social media platforms and Fenway Park's video boards. This work with the team has awarded Kellan four New England Emmy Awards. Additionally, Kellan runs a YouTube channel where he shares tutorials, tricks, and more that help other filmmakers develop their skills. Enjoy a new video every Wednesday at 10 AM!

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