Sometimes a scene needs just a little extra flavour to set the right mood. This post might help a bit as we show you how to make floating dust particle filters that can be applied to any footage.
”So what you guys gonna do tonight Particle?” asks Dusty. They have known each other since childhood and have been living in the same house for nearly 20 years now. “We’ll probably just hang around again tonight, you know”. Particle is quite a big guy, actually one of the biggest in the hood, he always keeps an eye out for Dusty. Dusty can get around on his own but he, and a few other guys, seem to be targeted lately by a force from outside. It is much stronger than any former intruder and it is relentless. They call him ‘Hoover’. If anyone see or hear Hoover then he needs to sound the alarm and everyone have to scramble to catch some air! Wind is key if you want to escape, either trying to get near an open window or to bungee and hope for the best, or by making your own wind. See, Hoover is like a dog with his nose on the ground, always busy down there trying to find someone like Dusty, it’s his playground. Everyone need to have each others back, until Hoover goes back to sleep, and the dust settles again. Dusty and Particle are, dust, particles.
Now if you’re a photographer then you might be quite familiar with them. They, love, cameras. It’s all about the glass, they hang out with the best. Now most of them hang out with 3rd party options, it’s just easier, like hanging out at the local mall. Nikon or L glass though, man that is labelling.
Anyhow today we are focusing on the bright side of Dusty and Particle. They also have other names like Floating Bokeh, Powder Puff, Stardust; names familiar in wrestling. We have a look on creating dust particle filters for photography or video.
The most important thing about capturing particles is to have side lighting on them and a very dark backdrop. Let’s run through the set-up. First you need to get a black cloth that you can put up against a wall as backdrop. A black sided reflector might also work. In order to capture them you will need a strong light source, I used two 900 LED lights, but anything with a similar power output should also work. For photos, just about any two flash heads will do the job, even one flash should be sufficient.
Next step is to position two lights opposite, and as close as possible, to each other. We need the maximum intensity of light we can get in order to light up the tiny particles. A distance of about 70-80cm should work well and can be positioned about 2-3 meters from the backdrop. Next we want to flag the lights to prevent any spill light getting onto the backdrop. I worked in a very small room and the lights reflected a lot of light off the walls. Some black fabric was placed on both sides, behind the lights, to block and absorb some of the light. Black paper was also placed on top of the lights to prevent further spill. The camera can now be positioned next to the lights to capture the dust particles that will float between them.
So how do we create dust? It is quite easy if you follow a few basic steps. First go to the bathroom. If the door is closed, then make sure no one is inside and then enter. Now you have to look for white stuff that is rolled up like a sponge cake roll. Toilet paper. A roll of between 25-32 meters work well. Two rolls are a bonus. 2-Ply is the cherry on the cake.
Why toilet paper? It creates highly reflective white dust that is very light and will hang in the air for quite some time. You simply pat the roll lightly with your hand, holding it close to the lights, or lightly bump two rolls against each other. This creates the Rolls Royce of dust particles.
Basic camera settings:
You can play around with different focal lengths, focus distances, apertures and fps. You also need to play around with ISO in order to get a good exposure. The background will most likely not appear dark but rather hazy. This is caused by the strong light that enters the lens from the front and reflects off the lens barrel. The camera can be moved backwards, away from the lights, if you have a telephoto lens and your working space allows for this. Crashing the blacks in post usually corrects the problem though.
Talking about post processing, I imported the footage and converted it to HD ProRes files. They were then categorised into different folders by effect, for example slow, fast, colours, bokeh etc. Each video file then received an (elegant) name for its effect. This make things a bit faster when a specific dust filter is needed in post. These files can then be applied as a layer onto an image, or by placing them above a video in the timeline. The blend mode needs to be set as Add, Lighten, Screen or Linear Dodge and the opacity can be adjusted as needed.
Here are some dust particle sample filters, basically straight out of camera, and applied to some footage mostly recorded on a Nikon D750:
You can play around with some coloured gels on the lights to create interesting effects or by using a rather transparent colour filter in front of the lens.
And that is how you create and capture dust particles to apply as a filter to enhance the mood in a scene. Your actors will be very impressed with the end result:
‘A golden glow fills the air underneath the old oak tree as the sun sets. He takes her hand into his as they draw close to one another. After all these years, they are finally together, nothing can separate them now. Holding her close, Michael softly whisper words that echoes in her soul “Angelina, I love you.” This is all she ever dreamed of as new hope fills her heart. This moment is all that matters right now. Warm sun rays colour the oak tree and lights up the dust particles that now slow dance in the air around them.’
Now don’t tell them it is toilet paper.