Cheap Shots

pimp your optics

glass objects

sample shot through martini glass

Light reflects from the sub- or object, traverses the space between the mis-en-scene and your camera, enters it and is captured. It is that space right in front of your lens, where you are given the opportunity to transform the light to your liking. To shape, warp, bundle or scatter it – whatever your vision requires. Transparent and translucent materials & objects can be used to alter the outside world through your special filter. A rich source for in camera visual effects is glass. Glass comes in many different shapes and forms and is likely to be found in your household. When held in front of lenses, different glasses yield different results – so, once again, experimentation is key.

drinking glasses

Various drinking glasses (wine, martini, water, etc.) will curve and bend your light in various ways, producing dreamy and even hallucinogenic results. These objects are best placed directly in front of the lens and filmed through with longer lenses – so that the camera captures their effect and not themselves. Moving them while filming will yield dynamic distortions. Old school tungsten-style light bulbs not only feature extremely thin curved glass, they also allow you (when powered by an adjustable direct current) to film through a controlled light source, resulting in quite fancy glow effects.

sample shot through drinking glass

additional lenses

Putting additional lenses in front of your camera is generally a wide source of effects. Eyeglasses are a very common form of lenses and will often be readily available (frameless models are especially convenient). With lenses you can achieve highly organic looking defocus effects on selected parts of your frame – imitating professional tools like tilt-shift lenses or even split diopters (if you want to get in on the saucy DePalma action).


Prisms and kaleidoscopic lenses (e.g. lenses imitating the compound eye look of insects) can sometimes be found in toys or science experiment kits for children. The cheap jewelry shop might also have an array of different shaped glass. This kind of distortion is widely used in dream sequence or drug trip depiction and produces drastic results. So: use with caution.

sample shot through kaleidoscope glass

sample shots through prisms

acrylic glass

Acrylic glass (a.k.a. plexi) can be warped and shaped under the influence of heat, so it enables you to create custom shaped glass. If you are after a specific effect, that none of the aforementioned objects can provide – consider making your own. Cracked (vintage) glass panes can also help you create a unique look.

mirrors (e.g. smartphones)

Do not underestimate the power of physical mirrors. Sure, you can slap on a digital mirroring effect in your NLE, but real mirrors will give you organic transitions, border effects and roll-offs, you might not be able to get digitally.

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