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Footage shot in slow motion is more popular today than ever. Whether it’s a video a friend posted on Facebook or Hollywood’s top blockbusters, we see slow motion in nearly everything. But don’t be fooled, young Padawan. Slow motion video is best showcased under certain circumstances and if you know when to use slow motion, it can significantly bump up the production quality of your video.

Enhance emotional reactions

Many movies use slow-mo to enhance the emotion in a scene. Take Terminator 2, for example. When both terminators meet face to face in the mall with John Connor, slow-mo is used to build suspense before the gunfight begins.

The slow motion is especially powerful in this scene because of how fast John is running before things slow down. The pace is picked up as John runs through the mall to escape one terminator, but comes to a crawl once he runs into the second terminator. This makes the scene much more dramatic as the audience realizes the seriousness of John being trapped between two terminators. The slow motion section is only about 25 seconds long, but it leaves a long lasting impact.

Disorient the viewer

Many movies use slow motion to somehow disorient the viewer. The actual reason the viewer needs to be disoriented depends entirely upon the movie, but it has been used in several different movies for different reasons. In The Wolf of Wall Street, slow motion is used whenever the main character has taken powerful drugs. By using slow motion, you get to see how the character perceives the world.

Another example of effective use of slow motion is Inception. The whole movie is filled with disorienting scenes but a scene that stands out to me with slow motion is the scene at the cafe.

Ellen Page’s character, and the audience, thinks that she is simply at a normal cafe having a conversation. Once the world around her starts falling apart in slow-mo, the audience realizes that things aren’t exactly as they seem.

Showcase what could be missed

Slow motion is great to show something that normally happens too fast to catch in real time. Who would have thought? This is especially apparent in sporting events. After nearly every big play you see an instant replay that is in slow motion. Or you see slow motion to showcase actions that happen in literally a blink of an eye. A gun firing, balloon popping, firework exploding, and many other things are great to show in slow motion.

Plenty of movies use slow-mo for this purpose. 300, for example, has plenty of slow-mo shots that follow soldiers through the battlefield as they carve up countless enemies. The Matrix used slow motion in such a unique way that the phrase “bullet time” was coined. When the character Neo finds himself unarmed with a gun pointed at him, he does some crazy slow-mo dodging to avoid being shot.

If this weren’t in slow motion, it would be a lot less memorable and believable. Compare how it looks when Neo dodges the bullets vs the other guy. Which is more impressive looking to you? Since it is being shown in super slow motion it not only shows how close the bullets are to hitting him but it also heightens the drama in the scene. (I never said you can’t combine the reasons in this post, did I?).

Well there you have it. You now possess all the knowledge to incorporate beautiful slow motion video into your productions. But keep in mind, with great power comes great responsibility. Refrain from shooting everything in slow motion. Sometimes, less is more. The more sparingly you use slow motion, the more powerful it will be when shown. Now get out there and start shooting!