Try These Eerie and Cool Camera Special Effects
A few DIY tips—not just for Halloween!
Shadowy scenes and scary noises spark our imagination, bringing on a feeling of fear. Oddly enough, we welcome these emotions, especially around Halloween, watching scary movies and sharing pictures of eerie home décor.
What makes movies and horror images so scary is special effects, and you can get some pretty cool DIY results without a big studio budget. Many of the following tips use the same techniques as the great filmmakers, replacing certain elements with common, affordable items.
The common thread among scary lighting effects is that they distort reality in some way, creating shadowy mystery.
A normal scene is well-lit using at least three points of light—a background light, a highlight on your subject and a fill light to eliminate shadows. Special effects lighting, such as uplighting, silhouette and prominent shadow lighting, does not use balanced lighting, which distorts the scene. To DIY these techniques, find a dark space, or one where you can control existing lighting, such as covering windows. Shooting outdoors at night is another option, but is a little harder to control the elements.
Uplighting: Placing a bright light below a subject will create deep shadows on faces that don’t normally occur in nature, creating an alarming effect.
Silhouette: With a silhouette, the subject is placed between the bright light and viewing area, creating just a dark shape. Because we cannot see details such as facial features and clothing, our mind fills in the details.
Shadow Lighting: Prominent shadows are created by using harsh lighting, with no fill, to light a subject. This can make a subject look evil.
Special effects lighting on the cheap: For a semi-professional look, you can pick up spotlight, such as the Came-TV Pro 1000W Fresnel Tungsten Light for less than $200 (without stand). One advantage to a light like this is flexibility to add gels and gobos for more spooky effects. Gels are a tough, flexible film used to cover the light lens to change the color temperature. Gobos are essentially a stencil with a cutout pattern for creating shadows and shapes when attached in front of the light.
If you want to really save money and get started right away, pick up a high wattage work light at a big box store like Home Depot for about $80. Note that while work lights are great for low budget film and photography projects, you cannot attach gels or gobos to them.
Creepy Special Effects
October is a great time to pick up items at Halloween stores for cheap special effects.
Glow-in-the-dark paint: Create ghostly effects by dabbing this paint on your scene elements, such as painting an actor’s hand then covering it in cheese cloth for a phosphorescent glow.
Fog machine: This little box can create an eerie outdoor scene in a dark alley, or emulate smoke surrounding a silhouetted character.
Glow sticks: Portable and versatile, these cheap glowing wands can be wrapped in transparent fabric, adding mystery to a shady background.
Fake blood: What is a creepy image without blood? You can buy affordable fake blood, but it is also easy to make with corn syrup, water and food coloring. But if you are putting your sticky substance near a person’s mouth, you might want to use this more palatable recipe:
+ 1 cup corn syrup
+ 2 tablespoons water
+ 2 tablespoons of red food coloring
+ 1 tablespoon of chocolate syrup
+ 2 tablespoons of cornstarch
If you have some mad amateur editing skills, you can add fake blood digitally and save all the mess. Companies like Motiondrops offer clips for $40 or a whole set of blood splatter, spray and drips for $200.
Spooky sound effects
You can gather various implements to create horror movie-quality sound effects, but why bother? You can get just about any sound you can imagine for your personal project on YouTube. Check out this hour-long long creepy background soundtrack.
Old school tricks
Here are few tried and true methods to create a certain mood.
Flame effects: Battery powered mini flickering tea lights can provide an affordable candle lit scene without the risk of fire. Hide in real candles or darken the scene to appear more realistic.
Try Black and White: shoot images in BW mode to appear stark and dramatic, or make this decision in editing. You can also add a bit of sepia tone for a more vintage look.
Use exaggerated perspective: A small object close to the camera will appear large (picture the Travelocity gnome in front of a vacation spot). This is called “forced perspective,” and can make a scary creature dominate the frame.
Hollywood uses professional handlers for weapons for good reason—they are dangerous, and accidents happen. Have fun, but never put yourself or participants at risk when creating your masterpiece.
Combine your great ideas and creativity with lighting and other DIY special effects to create scary Halloween images or plan your next horror film.