I love watching movies and TV shows where the characters are walking around dark rooms and you plainly see their flashlights and other light sources.
Most are aware that this is done with a hazer or light fogger. What many people don’t realize, however, is that you can achieve a similar look with a camera filter. I decided I wanted to do a comparison to explore the pro’s & cons of each technique. For the experiment, I used a Rosco V-Hazer and two Tiffen Pro-Mist Camera Filters: ¼ Black Pro-Mist and a ½ Black Pro-Mist filter.
Below is a series of shots that showcase how these two different tools work. I’ll explain what to look for in the frame of each shot as I point out the effect each tool creates, and we’ll take a look at what happens when you combine the two of them together. First, let’s take a look at a shot without any haze effect so that we can establish a baseline of what we are looking at.
Establishing shot with no haze
This frame is fairly sharp, but I find it plain and flat. Pay attention to the light sources in or near the edge of the frame. You can easily see the flashlight and the slight starburst in this clean master shot. I also have a light above the talent’s head that’s just out of frame. This light isn’t impacting the shot in this image, but you will see how the haze effects we’re exploring will make that beam much more interesting – and your footage more compelling – as we add haze effects into the shots that follow.
Atmosphere created by the Rosco V-Hazer
This frame shows the effect the V-Hazer had on the shot once it filled the room with atmosphere. As you would expect, you can now see more depth and texture in the frame. You can clearly see the beam of light from the flashlight, while at the same time the light source just overhead really brightens that area of the frame. As a cinematographer you can play with where to place the lights – both in and out of the frame – to paint your image. Now let’s take a look at what the shot looks like with a ¼ Black Pro-Mist filter and no haze in the room.
Tiffen ¼ Black Pro-Mist camera filter and no atmospheric haze
These camera filter options are great because many locations won’t let you use atmospheric haze. There are a variety of reasons for this, the most important being that atmospheric haze will trigger most smoke detection systems. Lacking any other option, most cinematographers will default to no haze and settle for results like we saw in the first clean image. Looking at what a Pro-Mist filter does to the image, you will notice the same halo effect above the talent’s head, as well as some blooming around the flashlight. You do lose the atmosphere in the flashlight beam unfortunately, but this image has a much different feel than the original shot. It’s good to know that this is very much a viable option if you want to use a hazer but can’t for whatever reason.
Tiffen ½ Black Pro-Mist camera filter and no atmospheric haze
Here is the same image with the ½ Black Pro-Mist, which allows us to compare and see what a different strength looks like. You can see this is a much more diffused and/or hazy effect. If this was b-roll for a corporate shoot, it would probably be too dramatic. If you are shooting a film, music video or a stylized piece, however, this could very well be perfect.
All of these choices are what makes our jobs as cinematographers wonderful. There isn’t just one tool for every job – we have several to choose from to create the shot we need. This is where you, as an artist, come in. Once you know the tools and what you want you can mix and match to create the visuals you want. For example, let’s look at what happens when we combine the V-Hazer with the ¼ Black Pro-Mist.
Tiffen ¼ Black Pro-Mist camera filter and atmospheric created by the Rosco V-Hazer
To me this is stunning. You have the best effects of the hazer adding atmosphere into the flashlight beam as well as additional, continuous texture throughout the shot thanks to the camera filter. Because this technique enriched the image so much, I wondered if adding the ½ Black Pro-Mist would be too much.
Tiffen ½ Black Pro-Mist camera filter and atmospheric created by the Rosco V-Hazer
What do you think? This look might work if you’re trying to create a stylized smoky room or a nightclub scene. In fact, I’m sure there is definitely the right project for this combination; I just don’t feel it is right for this room.
In my opinion, there is nothing better than the atmospheric effect the Rosco V-Hazer creates on the market today. Its water-based fluid formula doesn’t leave behind any residue on my valuable camera equipment or add a permanent haze effect to my lenses. I own a V-Hazer and use it as often as I can. However, I use my Pro-Mist camera filters almost as often – notably, in situations where I can’t make haze, or because I’m flying and can’t bring the V-Hazer with me on the plane.
If you want to have the best imagery, earn the most money and not get overtaken by the latest film school graduate who’s hunting down your clients - you have to constantly be learning. Experimenting with techniques like adding haze into your shots with the Rosco V-Hazer is a great way to improve your imagery and establish your filmmaking style. Happy shooting!