So what can filmmakers learn to achieve the same effect for their films? 

Creatives with big budgets have the flexibility to fine-tune the lighting and color palette of their narrative projects, not only for their scenes but also their set design. Just look at the work of Tarsem Singh and Wes Anderson. Both directors have very clear visions and use both color and lighting to tell their stories. 

Budget filmmakers usually don’t have that luxury. But there are a few tricks we can learn from product photography that can help us express our artistic vision. 

Let’s start with visiting Jay P. Morgan over at The Slanted Lens YouTube channel to get started.

Shaping Light with Paper

When photographing a pair of Nike sneakers, Morgan used an unconventional tool that, according to him, loads of professional photographers have in their kit. What is it?

Tracing paper. 

This thin paper material can be had for under $20 and comes in large rolls. Morgan picked his up for $15.99 in a 17” by 50-yard roll and used it as diffusion in lieu of a softbox in his tiny space. 

“Well, that’s silly,” I hear you say. But bear with us. This simple tool can be a wonderful alternative to dedicated products such as muslin or purpose-built diffusion.

Tracing Paper As DiffusionTracing PaperCredit: The Slanted Lens

White tracing paper is so lightweight it can be shaped, cut, and molded into any amount of diffusion you need. You can layer it and/or tape it to the ceiling with Scotch tape and get an excellent piece of diffusion. No need for costly stands or gaff tape. (We're exaggerating a bit about the Scotch tape, but the fundamental idea still stands.)

The tracing paper is also inexpensive in comparison to dedicated products and is reflective enough to be used as a light bounce source. 

Morgan used his paper to create a soft light that wrapped around his product. For filmmakers on a budget, this might be a better tool than the shower curtains everyone tends to go for when starting out.

It may not be a perfect solution for outdoor scenes in windy weather, but it is an ingenious solution for interiors. Especially if you don’t have the space or money for a softbox of the same size.

DataColor ColorReader EZCredit: The Slanted Lens

Art Direction with Color

The next tool Morgan brought out is the Datacolor ColorReader EZ. This handy little gadget comes in at $59.99 and lets filmmakers get color readings of anything they want. All through an app on their phone. 

Morgan used his ColorReader to color match the Nike shoes to a Mondrian-inspired background that he created. 

What’s so cool about this little piece of tech is it can let creatives with a color-minded approach to art direction match the set design of their projects to their characters and/or props. 

Remember this scene from Garden State?

Garden State Bathroom Scene'Garden State'Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Imagine perfectly matching your set to a piece of wardrobe. Found an amazing prop and want the perfect complementary color for your walls? An easy problem to solve for $59.99 plus whatever paint will cost you. You're only limited by how much paint you can buy. 

The power of color and set design is often overlooked by filmmakers making their first films. While the story will always be the most important thing for your film, having this kind of freedom to fine-tune your art direction is a wonderful addition to your tool kit.

Creativity on a Budget

It’s always disheartening to look at movies with million-dollar budgets and struggle to achieve that same creative ingenuity for your short film. 

But with a few rolls of paper to bounce light and a few color-matched cans of paint from a hardware store, filmmakers can really let their imagination loose.

Yes, dedicated equipment and tools will always make your life easier on set, but let’s not discount the unconventional approach. That’s where creativity really goes into overdrive.

Source: The Slanted Lens