5 Must-Know Camera Hacks to Save Time and Money

Filmmaking 12/07/2019 4 min read

We all love a good life hack, something that makes life easier with little to no money or effort. That’s especially true for filmmaking. If you’ve been in this game for a while, you’ll know that filmmaking is an expensive profession. Cameras, lights, stabilizers, tripods, C-stands, memory cards, and an editing computer all add up quickly. Therefore, knowing simple camera hacks are absolutely invaluable! 

Today, we’re looking at filmmaking hacks to craft great effects without spending more than five bucks for each tip. You may have seen before floating around before, but others may be brand new to you. Give them a try — you may be surprised at how effective they are!

Camera Hacks You Should Try at Your Next Shoot

1. Use a Neck Strap 

If you’re like many videographers out there, you got your DSLR, looked at it and said, “A neck strap? That’s for photographers,”  and threw it into the corner and forgot about it. But this little accessory can help you achieve extra points of stabilization. Fortunately, neck straps are likely to be included for free with your camera. 

With your strap around your neck, push your camera away from you until the strap goes tight. Remember to keep that tension as you go through your motion. This will help to get rid of any jitters that your hands create when free-holding the camera. It’s definitely not a complete jitter-free solution, but it goes a long way towards stabilizing your footage if you’re going handheld. 

Your goal isn’t necessarily to get your shot perfect, but to get it to the point where it’s way smoother and free of jitter and rolling shutter. Once you pass a threshold of stability capturing it raw, adding a Warp Stabilizer effect in Premiere Pro or After Effects will be way more successful. You’ll find that this simple hack can give you some stellar results. 

2. Fishing Wire

If you’ve ever checked out tips and tricks for photographers or videographers, the classic fishing wire over the lens is a trick you’ve probably come across before. It’s so cheap and effective — we had to include it. You can get a whole reel of fishing line for next to nothing, and you only use a fraction of it for your lens. 

What does it do? Tape clear fishing line going exactly vertical over your lens when you shoot in front of an intense, concentrated light source. The result is an anamorphic-style, deliberate lens flare! 

Keep in mind if you use a lens under 50mm, you may get this effect where your lens flare ends before the edge of your frame. Also, try to do this only on prime lenses, as the lower your F-stop, the better the effect will come across. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do it on a zoom lens; it’s worth trying if you have a zoom with a nice low F-stop. 

Why wouldn’t you just add flares in post-production? Well, a lot of work can go into creating a lens flare that looks good and matches the motion of your light source. It can get a little complicated and become quite time-consuming. That said, Motion Array does offer a lens flare plugin that can quickly give you a great-look effect too.

3. Rubber Band

If your tripod doesn’t have a nice fluid head, it can be frustrating to get a smooth pan. Instead, you might have got a jerky movement rather than the nice smooth motion you’d like. The hack? Use one of those rubber bands you likely just have lying around your house.  

Wrap one end of the rubber band around your tripod handle and hold the other end. You’ll control the movement of the tripod head by holding and pulling on the rubber band instead of grabbing and moving it with your hand. 

Now, all of your hand motion is evenly applied to the tripod head. It’s all gradual and smoothed out because you’re not touching the tripod. It’s all going through the rubber band instead.

4. Mask Your Microphone

This one is more of a digital hack than a physical one, but it works great nonetheless. You might know that one thing that’s essential to getting high-quality audio is to get your microphone as close to your subject as possible. This is one of the reasons that Lavalier mics are such a great tool! 

If you’ve only have a standard shotgun mic and you want to get it close to your subject, that can get tricky. What if you want a wide shot of your subject and you can’t get the mic close enough without it being in the picture? What do you do? Bring it into frame anyway and get it close to your subject. 

Yes, really! As long as there’s distance at all times between the mic and the subject, and the background isn’t moving like crazy, you can mask out the mic in post-production. Make sure that at some point, you have the same shot minus the microphone to use as your clean plate. This will be important for editing the object out. 

  1. Open your shot in Premiere Pro. 
  2. Take a sample of the clip without the microphone in it. Place it on the bottom layer of your timeline. 
  3. Right-click, and select Frame Hold on the part that has the clean background. 
  4. Place your normal clip (the one with the mic visible) on the layer right above this one.  
  5. Mask out your microphone with the Pen tool on your main footage layer (this will allow the mic-less bottom layer to show through). 
  6. Lastly, Feather just a tad. 

The result is that you get the sound quality of a close microphone, without it being visible in the frame. Learn more about masking in Premiere Pro by checking out this tutorial. 

5. Blanket Drag

You may have seen an idea floating about to use a wheelchair as a makeshift dolly. That sounds pretty cool, but who really has a spare wheelchair lying around? If you happen to be someone who does, great! But most of us don’t. 

Do you know what everyone has? An old blanket. A blanket is a great alternative to a wheelchair because it’s so very easy. Simply have your camera operator sit or lie down on the blanket, then get a second pair of hands to drag them across the floor. 

The result is surprisingly smooth footage. All of the jittering of walking is done by the person pulling the blanket, not the camera operator on the blanket. The blanket acts as a muffler to the movement, so you get super smooth, professional-looking footage. The blanket hack also lets you get super low to the ground for epic foot-level shots. 

Being a videographer or filmmaker can get expensive, so it’s worth trying these time and money-saving camera hacks. The result will be smoother footage and better quality sound. You also don’t need to break the bank to use the accessories featured today, meaning you can save that money for your next important purchase instead!