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Pro Video Tips is designed for busy videographers like you. This series brings you a new tip every week, on everything from controlling reflections to hiding mics. Host Anthony Q. Artis covers shooting techniques for particular video challenges like portraits, tools to help you control light and judge exposure, and advice for the traveling videographer, such as putting together a great lens kit or packing a truck. Come back every Tuesday for a new round of tips.
- Now I want to share a common effect that you've seen many times, especially in desert scenes, street scenes, and westerns, but also pretty much in any scene where the heat is a major factor in the story, and that's how to create visual heatwaves that are strong enough to actually register on camera regardless of the actual temperature on location. And while this technique has been around for awhile, it was first shared with me personally by veteran DP Julio Macat, who shot Home Alone, Ace Ventura, and many other films, so shout out to Julio for putting me down with it so I can put you down with it.
Now this is a nice little cinematography trick to have up your visual story telling sleeve because it's often a challenge as a filmmaker to find an effective way to visualize senses and concepts such as smell, touch or temperature. These are all powerful things that affect us in real life but can often only be eluded to on screen with indirect visual cues, such as someone's reaction to a smell, or seeing sweat on a character's face. However with this little trick, for once, you can actually visualize, make your audience see, those hot rippling summer heatwaves.
So to pull this off, all you need is a can or two of Sterno, which is the little fuel canisters that you will see under the hot dishes at food buffets. These little fuel canisters put out a low level but hot and constant little flame that keeps the food warm. You can generally find cans of Sterno in a grocery or party store, at a restaurant supply store, or in the camping supply section of any major retailer or outdoors store. They'll usually be somewhere right next to the large aluminum catering dishes and stands found alongside cookware.
So to make this little bit of movie magic, all you have to do is place your Sterno can a safe distance, just out of frame, a little in front of the lens on an apple box or table or anything else like that. Light it and you should have a heat intense enough to create some heatwaves that are actually strong enough to register on camera. Now alternatively, I was also able to get the same effect from three wick candle in a jar placed in front of the lens. I think the advantage of a Sterno, however is that it lasts a long time, it burns cleaner and more intensely than a candle, so you'll probably get a stronger heatwave effect without having to be too close to the lens, which is obviously the big safety thing we want to look out for here.
Now just so I'm perfectly clear here, I don't want anybody writing me and telling me that they tried this trick and burned their favorite telephoto lens or melted their lenshood or anything else like that. So for safety sake, make absolutely sure that you don't get too close to the front of the camera and check the intensity of the heat on your camera before you roll. If you can't hold your hand in front of the lens you probably want to back off a little. Lastly, note that you're going to get the best and most dramatic heatwave effects using a long telephoto lens. So the more telephoto, the more dramatic and wavy your heatwaves will be.
So that's my hot tip for this week's episode. I'm Anthony Q Artist and I'm going to bounce now. It's getting hot in here.
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