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Demo Reel Tips: Use Smoke and Fog to Make Your Work Stand Out

Atmosphere can be the difference between a boring shot and an incredible one. And colored smoke is about as atmospheric as it gets.

No matter your experience level, how often you shoot, or what you’re shooting on, one thing is for certain: getting outside and just shooting can never hurt your craft. And a good demo reel full of creative footage is a good way to advance your career. So what’s something you can shoot to spice up that reel? Something that just really takes it to the next level and starts bringing you bigger clients?

How about smoke and fog?

How to Approach the Smoke

Demo Reel Tips: Use Smoke and Fog to Make Your Work Stand Out — Approaching the Smoke

Of course, the creative direction is completely up to you, but there are a few things you should know when choosing the type of smoke. In the video, Robbie used Enola Gaye pull-cord smoke sticks. You can twirl them around, send them up in the air, or attach to a variety of different moving objects. However, they do get pretty hot, so you can slide them into a PVC pipe and tape the outside if you are or an actor is handling them.

The smaller the device producing the smoke, the better your video will look because the focus won’t be on the source of the smoke — it’ll be on the smoke itself and what’s happening inside it. The smoke should enhance the production value of your shot, adding flare, mystery, and feeling. It shouldn’t detract from it

What to Do with It

Demo Reel Tips: Use Smoke and Fog to Make Your Work Stand Out — Using the Smoke

As you can see in Robbie’s video, there are all kinds of ways to make creative use of the smoke. All of these methods involve movement because the slow-moving smoke cloud is only interesting if there’s an object or person doing something inside it. Whether that’s a dancer in the woods, a long boarder cruising down a hill, or an intense protest scene, the audience needs something to pay attention to — even if it doesn’t make sense. If it looks cool, it looks cool.

And remember, if you’re going for the slow-motion look, shoot at a high frame rate and double the shutter speed. So if you’re shooting at 120fps then set your shutter speed to 240.

How to Shoot it

Demo Reel Tips: Use Smoke and Fog to Make Your Work Stand Out — How to Shoot Smoke

Keep in mind the most significant aspect of shooting a demo reel: every shot matters. When making a piece of work for the sole purpose of showcasing your talent, every shot needs to be an accomplishment. So mix up your shots and try new things. If you’re shooting something, and it’s not working, tilt the camera or get low. Add a little dynamic turn with your reel by showing off some surprising angles and shots. For the smoke sequences you see above, Robbie used the new DJI Ronin-S to pull off all of these movements.

What About Fog?

Now, smoke this thick can really improve a tight shot, but let’s say you want to go wider. What do you do? You can’t get too far from the smoke stick, and you need the haze to sit a while as you get the shot setup. Good thing Todd Blankenship is here to fog up your life.

Creating Another World

Wonderment: that’s what you want somebody watching your demo reel to feel. This fog setup will get you moving in the right direction. The process is simple. Purchase a insect fogger, and instead of filling it with insect repellent, fill it with mineral oil. Now, I wouldn’t recommend doing this inside, as it will be too thick and visibility will be poor, but in the appropriate outdoor setting, like the woods or a field at magic hour, you can create a really otherworldly scene.

This fog has a long hang time, and it’s fairly dense, so you’ll have ample time to get all the shots you need. If you can get some light shining through your fog, the volumetric possibilities are off the charts.

But what if you don’t have access to a forest? Well, last year, RocketStock released a pack of 16 free 4k volumetric light and dust elements. They’re super easy to use, and they improve the end result tenfold. Check this little gem out.

Oh, and, let’s say you also want to add a few lens flares to your final product. Last week we put out a free pack of 17 anamorphic lens flares, all organically captured in-house.

So that’s it. Go forth and shoot the most epic demo reel ever. If you end up using any of these elements, send us your work on Facebook and Twitter! We’d love to see some amazing demo reels. And here are a few more free assets while we’re on the subject.

150+ Smoke Effects
Give your video an atmospheric kick with organically captured smoke effects. Shot on set with a RED camera and Zeiss Master Prime lenses, Fume boasts over 150 premium video assets in 4K.