Did you ever spot the camera whenever you see a movie that has mirrors in its scenes? The chances are abysmally low because filming in front of a mirror is a challenge for cinematographers. And they take great care in avoiding the camera on reflection. This article will discuss the techniques to make the camera invisible when you shoot in front of a mirror.
So, how to film in front of a mirror? There are various techniques like
– keep the camera at an angle to avoid its reflection
– hiding the camera among the props in the background
– placing the camera in the dark or under a dark cloth
– simulating a background that gives an illusion of a mirror
– using Visual Effects and rotoscope techniques in post-production etc.
But it is not that simple as it sounds. You have to adopt different techniques for different situations. To understand this, we need to know what is the relevance of mirrors in films. How many types of mirror shots are there? How do you film in front of a mirror, and what are the popular techniques to hide the camera in a mirror scene.
Why Do We Use Mirrors In A Scene?
Here are some reasons where the mirror can be an essential element in the film:
- Mirrors have great importance in films, and they add depth and quality to films.
- One of the fundamental reasons mirrors are used in films is that they make the frame busy and grand. It adds life to the film, as there is always a reflection of light on the mirror.
- Films with mirror effects are seen by the viewers as realistic and make them feel like they are actually in the scene. They also help create an illusion to see what is happening behind the character with more ease than typical scenes.
- Mirror effects are also used in horror films to scare the audience. When the characters look in the mirror, it catches him off guard and scares them.
- Mirror effects have a long-standing history in filmmaking, and they will continue to be used whenever required in films. Since their inception, they have been filmed in different ways and will continue to do so for years to come.
Types of Mirror Shots:
Before we get into how to film mirror scenes, let’s understand the various types of mirror shots in movies today.
The idea of filming in front of a mirror is an unusual one, but it can be accomplished. There are seven primary types of shots you can do.
- Reflection shot:
In this type of shot, the camera films a reflection in the mirror. It works well in cramped spaces as it adds depth to the scene, and also it is an effective storytelling tool. It gives viewers the feeling that they’re watching someone preparing for an event or putting on makeup while simultaneously viewing them from behind their reflection.
- Point Of View Shot:
This type of shot is filmed from the point of view of a character staring into the mirror. The camera is positioned directly in front of the mirror, usually with the actor placed behind it. In this case, you’re essentially filming your reflection, but viewers see you through your gaze.
This type of shot occurs when two characters are face to face, each staring at their own reflections in a mirror directly behind them while they talk to one another.
- Double Reflection:
The camera is positioned inside a room that has two mirrors, one on each side. The shot can be two people talking with their reflections in the mirror to one side of them.
A multi-shot uses different shots of the same character in front of their reflection.
- Framed shots:
You can use the mirrors as photo frames and capture subjects or information through the reflection. It is effective to create good scene compositions and use it as reaction shots in a single frame.
- Vanishing Mirror:
Here, the camera pushes inside the mirror to give an illusion of the camera diving into the reflected side. You then flow into the other side of the scene as if the mirror is just a wall.
5 Steps To Film A Mirror Shot?
Filming in front of the mirror without showing the camera is not quite simple. Especially when it is a moving shot, or the characters move around the scene. Today, due to the availability of hi-tech visual effects systems and experts, the filmmakers push themselves to create complicated seamless shots in front of mirrors.
I can’t forget the mirror sequence of Black Swan and The Matrix where the handheld camera tracks across the actors behind their backs, and you wonder in amazement why don’t you see the camera in the reflection. Also, with some knowledge of filmmaking, you still wonder about the work going into the shot when the camera movement is dynamic and sometimes random.
The most important thing to remember if you’re filming in front of a mirror is that both sides of the shot need to be equally interesting. A boring-looking set on one side can be distracting and ruin your scene.
So to shoot a mirror scene, you need to understand and decide the following steps before actually shooting the scene.
- Pick the Angle:
First and foremost, decide on the angle of the shot. You can shoot it from the side, at an angle, or directly in front of or behind the mirror. The camera should never be positioned straight in front of the mirror. It is always advisable to keep the camera at an angle where it is not seen clearly on reflection.
- Fix the Camera Moves:
Then, decide the camera moves, if any. Are you going to move the camera or not? If yes, make sure that your subject is centered and visible because it creates a dynamic shot.
Later, finalize the angle of the endpoint. After deciding everything, get back to your original angle and check that camera is placed at that angle where it’s not seen on reflection.
- Lighting the Frame:
Filming in from a mirror needs lighting to make sure the actor’s reflection is visible. Not only the subject but also the visible background is the reflection from the mirror. So the lighting of the subject, as well as the background, is pretty tricky.
The job becomes demanding when many characters are moving in from and back of the scene. You need to take care of lighting everyone yet maintaining the aesthetics of the shot.
- Hide the Crew:
Since the production crew, like the cameraman, the focus puller, the riggers, the lighting crew, etc., are all present behind the camera, you have to hide them and their shadows.
Use natural light or specially designed lights that produce no shadows so that your reflection shows up well at all times.
The most important thing you must do is rehearse. It is a good idea to layout your shot with the entire crew and then take it from each angle. It not only makes sure everyone involved knows what’s going on but even creates a sense of accuracy and speed in the actual shoot.
8 Techniques To Make The Camera Invisible In The Mirror Reflections?
Every filming of a mirror scene will differ depending on the demands of the filmmaker. So let’s discuss some popular techniques to make the camera invisible in a mirror scene.
- Out of range of the Angle of Reflection
The camera is placed behind a mirror so that it does not appear in the reflection. It is the most common solution, but it can make the shot look artificial or even contrived. It works best when many characters are in the scene, and you want to hide them from view.
- Offset Technique
The camera is offset from its original position. It reduces its chances of being seen by viewers since it is entirely out of frame on reflection.
In the Blackout method, the camera is in front of a blacked-out reflection in a mirror. This approach ensures that the subject of the shot clearly but remains out of view on reflection. Sometimes you can use black cloth,
- Blind Spot
The camera is placed behind a mirror to create an illusion of being hidden in the same spot it was originally. This method works best when you want to make the subject appear behind them, and it doesn’t work well when the shot includes dialogue.
5. Optical Axis
Using optics, mirrors, and prisms can create a virtual or artificial reflection on camera. Since it is totally under the filmmaker’s control, this technique is often used when filming straight in front of a mirror.
- Stepping Back
The camera is hidden behind the reflection by stepping back from the original position. This method also creates an optical illusion to hide the camera from viewers in real life and the reflection.
- The Camouflage Trick
For this shot, the camera must be placed behind the actor and should not move during shooting. Usually, it is hidden as a prop, and you can’t spot it as it blends with the background. You find this technique when an actor has his back to the audience or if there is more than one actor in a shot.
- Removal of the Camera via Rotoscopy:
The most common use here is that the shot is filmed with the camera crew easily visible in the reflection. But in the post, using the rotoscope removal technique ( commonly used in wire removal shots during action scenes), you can remove the camera and the crew in the background.
How To Film Through A Mirror?
The filmmaker/cinematographer creates the illusion of a mirror, but they don’t actually have a mirror. Remember, we discussed the Vanishing Mirror in the types of mirror shot section. These scenes work well in horror or thrillers when the camera pulls out from a room through a mirror showing the reflection or pushing into the reflection to get inside the room.
Filming through a mirror are approached using two methods:
Two Side Set-Up:
In this method, the scene needs ample space divided into two equal spaces. One space must be the size of the room where the real drama is taking place. On the other side is another room setup dressed up as the mirror version of the other room – where the real action is taking place, thus giving an illusion of a mirror.
Even the texts on the props or Wall Hangers/Posters must be printed in reverse. Also, in this technique, the use of body double is vital. An over-the-shoulder shot of the body double helps create the illusion of a mirror in the scene. The critical part is the mirrored coordination between the double and the actor has to be perfect.
Check this video:
Use of VFX:
Visual effects can also create an illusion of a mirror effect. Digital tricks make a virtual reflection in a mirror. Usually, two shots are filmed separately and later stitched in the post-production.
Check this Video:
Usually, the shots are filmed multiple times with the motion tracking camera to get a clean slate for the background and reflections. Capturing camera movements on a motion track will help with creating a better mirror effect scene.
Essential Tips To Remember While Shooting Mirror Reflections:
- You must do the makeup for the actor carefully so that there is enough light reflection on his face. Any dark shade will not reflect much light in the scene. The most reflective makeup on the face is powder on the forehead, and if you apply it, you may need to change its color as it may look odd in the actual shot. So, if you are willing to change the shade of your powder makeup, then it will turn out very well in your film.
- There should not be any dark layers of cloth or hair around the actor. Shooting a mirror shot with dark shades around the actor will hide his face completely in the shot.
- The makeup and styling of the actors are important as they create an illusion of a 3D image, which forms the reflection in the mirror.
- If you want to film something reflected in a mirror, you must use glass instead of acrylic sheeting.
- It is best to have a simple, single-colored background behind the actor to get reflected into the mirror.
- The cost of shooting a mirror shot is very high; so, you must decide whether it is best to shoot in front of a real mirror or a synthetic one.
- In some shots, it may be better to use natural lighting instead of artificial lights, as it gives realistic reflection in mirrors without any hassles involved in post-production.
- One way to avoid the glare from lights is to have a black cloth underneath the mirror to absorb the light.
Please Note: Beginners are at risk as it has to be shot without any mistakes. The mirror effect can be easily seen in such shots as they give the illusion of depth and make viewers feel like they are behind the actor on screen.
We hope this helps you create an illusion of a mirror in your film. In the end, we would like to say keep trying and practice a lot. It takes time to get skilled at it, but once you have some experience, the results will come out well. Mirror shots give your film a more aesthetic touch that viewers will love to watch.