Whether for stills or video, projecting images toward your background or subject creates novel lighting effects. You can use royalty-free backgrounds or create your own digital backgrounds in Photoshop.

These are the three most practical techniques and often used for creating cool in-camera and music video effects, such as in Imagine Dragons – Believer.

  • creating a virtual backdrop by projecting onto a subject (person/wall)
  • backlighting the subject by projecting light beams from the rear, often through thick fog or haze
  • projecting from the top through thick fog or haze, creating a plane of light

Thankfully, projectors are smaller and more affordable than ever. A laser projector like the Sony Pico weighs only 280g and is small enough to fit into your pocket. It connects to your smartphone, laptop or gaming console through HDMI and USB ports.

Front projection

Project in the same direction you’re shooting in.

Use this method for creating a virtual background. Apurture recommends placing the projector about 30cm directly above your camera to help minimise shadows for a more realistic effect. Carefully choose your projected contented to create a sculpture in motion, whether on a wall or on a person standing in front of a wall.

To isolate your entire subject from its background, use studio lights to overpower the projection onto the background. And to isolate parts of your subject, for example, the model’s face, use directional light modifiers to cancel out the projection.

The size of the projected image depends on distance, but you will only need 30cm to get the maximum image size of 3m at HD (1920 x 720) quality with the Sony Pico.

Using a projector for creating cool video and photo lighting effects
Using a projector for creating cool video and photo lighting effects

Rear projection

With your projector and camera facing each other and your subject in-between.

Use this method to add drama to a scene. Avoid casting light directly onto the subject by adding thick fog or haze, resulting in beams of light that dance around the subject.

Project from a flat surface or place the Sony Pico at an angle using the standard tripod socket. You’ll have plenty of time to experiment as its 2-hour battery life is enough to last an entire full-length movie.

Top projection

Project from the roof or a stand above the subject.

Use this method to create a plane of light. By adding fog or haze for atmosphere, your subject will take centre stage. But, be careful of racoon eyes. Adding a fill light on the person’s face should get rid of them.

When top lighting results in shadows the seem to hollow out a person’s eyes, it’s known as Racoon Eyes.