Why Do We Love Slow Motion Video?
Just about anyone can create slow-motion video clips these days. With a smartphone and a little help from a consumer-grade handheld gimbal or even a little digital image stabilization, it’s not that hard to generate a buttery-smooth cinematic shot… in slow motion.
And if you’re working with more advanced production gear from my world that many in corporate video production are using today, the results can be even more impressive. With a digital cinema camera, fast lens, and the right lighting, you can create amazing slow-motion shots at reasonable price points that were unimaginable five years ago.
But why am I and so many others obsessed in the quest to generate slow motion shots (for both personal and professional use)?
Learning about Slow Motion at the Movies
It’s not like viewing our reality in slow motion is natural. Sure, certain people talk about their surroundings slowing down right before an emergency. But that’s more about cognitively processing versus actually watching something move slowly.
Slow motion is essentially a special effect born out of the technology of movie making.
We only understand slow motion as part of our learned understanding of the cinematic viewing experience. We all grew up watching slow motion at the movies, on TV and now… online.
Slowing Down Sports Action
At a basic level, slow motion is a magical way to visually dissect an important moment that simply happens too quickly. It generates more time for us to actually process what’s happening.
Its use during sports TV coverage is an obvious example. That home run or touchdown is always better shot in slow motion. And the value of slow-mo in televised sports also applies when you shoot your family backyard touch-football highlight.
The Emotional Rush
But I’m often more interested in the use of slow motion as a visual tool that offers an emotional point of view. When a particular moment in a movie suddenly slows down, it often represents an emotional turn in visual storytelling.
And when that slow-motion shot is paired with a low audio rumble or ominous violin strings, experiencing that moment flicks a switch in our brains. We’ve been trained like Pavlov’s dogs to have a conditioned response… in this case, an emotional surge.
You know that feeling, right? The one that sends a tingle down your spine or involuntarily squeezes those muscles behind your ears.
In short, we feel something of a rush.
A great movie moment can easily do that to you. And slow motion is one of the ways to complete that circuit.
As a visual storyteller in my career and also at home as the self-appointed family documentarian, I’m always looking for opportunities to create this kind of moment… that same rush for my viewers.
Slow motion isn’t the only way to get it done. But when strong artistic execution is married with good slow motion and the right narrative moment, it’s undeniably a holy-grail moment for any creative.
But if you’re also a digital content creator, I’ve got a warning…
Don’t go crazy with slow-mo. Just like any creative tool, we should have a clear reason to use it and not simply treat it like some kind of cheap trick. Because that’s exactly what it would become.
Plus, pointless slow motion is just… slow.
Also, when considering using a b-roll clip as part of your editing process, don’t slow the clip down simply to extend it to ‘fit’ in your editing timeline gap. (This is possible only if your footage was originally shot at a high frame rate.)
I believe that ‘filling in the gap’ is a misuse of slow motion. It’s never the best way to intentionally use slow-mo… mostly because it’s not intentional… it’s just convenient.
Where used properly, slow motion will reveal fundamental truths that we may miss at normal speed.
Yes, it’s an entirely unnatural way to experience the world, but one that technology has successfully created for us. The great filmmakers have shown us the visual guidelines for slow motion. Now, with the democratization of slow-mo video creation, it’s up to you and me to respect and apply them.