Projector Photography involves projecting patterns, shapes, textures, or photos onto objects, people, and/or landscapes to create interesting effects and accentuate form.
The DLP projector I am currently using is the portable Aaxa M4 / M5 / M6.
|Aaxa M4||Aaxa M5||Aaxa M6||The Ideal|
|Max Lumens (DC)||800||900||1200||1000+|
|Max Lumens (Battery)||400||500||500||1000+|
|Contrast Ratio||1:2,000||1:2,000||1:2,000||Black pixels w/ no illumination
|Displays Image Preview / Thumbnails||Yes (one at a time previews, rendering takes a few seconds)||Yes (thumbnails viewable page by page, takes time to render them)||No||Yes; instant full-screen rendering for rapid image browsing|
|Keystoning||Yes. Auto and manual; vertical only||Yes. Manual only; vertical only||None||Yes. Auto and manual; vertical and horizontal|
|Fits in standard camera bag?||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|Size||8.3″ x 5.3″ x 3.1″||6″ x 6″ x 1.8″||7″ x 7″ x 2.1″||Small enough to fit in standard camera bag (ie.somewhere around 8″ x 5″ x 3″)|
|Weight||2.4 lbs||1.96 lbs||2.5 lbs|
|Gapless Video Looping?||No||No||No||Yes|
|Animated GIF support?||No||No||No||Yes
|Special Features?||TV Tuner||1) Dedicated knob for adjusting lumens amount; 2) buttons, knobs, and ports below or flush with casing; 3) feet on all six sides for proper fan airflow; 4) 90 degree angled corners for proper vertical projection; 5) gapless video looping|
- The M4 can project images onto surfaces 9 to 150+ inches away from projector. When the projector is X centimeters away from the projection surface, the projected image will measure as X centimeters in length, diagonally – the other projectors are very similar in this manner.
- Tripod mounts are on the bottom of all units.
- Can read PNG, baseline rendered JPEGs (not progressive), BMP, and MP4 video files.
- Manual focus only.
- The M4 cannot be placed vertically.
Not all projectors are perfect, here is what I mean…
The Aaxa M4/M5 has the screen-door effect and is more pronounced when projecting images onto surfaces that are further away from the projector. The screen-door effect can be reduced by slightly defocusing the focus ring on the projector. The screen-door effect is not as noticeable on the M6 because of the 1080p native resolution.
These Aaxa projectors have the rainbow-effect and do not have the best contrast ratio:
The Aaxa M4/M5/M6 projector could be improved in that:
- A gapless video looping option would be very useful, as well as the ability to display animated GIFs. (email them and tell them to update the firmware!)
- When displaying an image with a small resolution of say 4×4 pixels, it will resize that image to be 800×800. There should be an option that allows you to stretch it to fit screen (in this case 800×800) OR to display it as 4×4. (Email them!)
- Keystoning should be more expandable.
- All corners should be 90 degrees and there should be feet on all six sides of the unit.
With all that being said, you can do some pretty cool stuff with this projector. Here are some ideas:
Techniques and Ideas
Projecting patterns onto humans, landscapes, flora, and objects all work well.
Other Techniques and Ideas:
You can hook the projector up to a laptop (or tablet/phone) and use Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator (or whatever else), live, in real-time, to draw light onto surfaces with maximum precision. You can do the same thing using animations as well. Just hit the F key twice to enter Full Screen Mode when you are in Adobe programs.
You can project a pattern onto a model, and have the model move around to create an interesting long exposure light painting abstract. You can also project a video of a moving pattern onto a model or anything else, and have them move around (or not) to create another type of long exposure light painting. Here is a long exposure of white dots/stars spiraling inward, with a model on the right.
You can take a long exposure image of a person walking in front of the projector a few meters away, walking from the left side of the projection to the right side of the projection while projecting a video where a white scan-line starts at the top row of pixels, slowly slides downward, and ends up at the bottom row of pixels. This is known as slit-scan photography. More information about this specific technique will be in the image pack.
You can use the projector as a light painting device for long exposures, being able to project any shape or color of light onto any surface, and be able to change the color of the light as it is moving at any speed.
There are projectors out there that are brighter and higher res than the portable Aaxa projectors, however they are larger, heavier, more expensive, and do not come with an on-board battery. Here is a comparison of the most relevant projectors that are ‘better’ than the M5 that I could find during my research in 2016. As far as I know right now, LCoS/SXRD technology (as opposed to DLP or LCD) reduces screen-door effect and eliminates rainbow effect, and using lasers instead of LEDs as the light source also reduces screen-door effect and requires no focus ring; comment below if you have anything to add regarding this.
There are cheaper and smaller projectors available as well but they are not as bright.
A gobo is a physical stencil or template slotted inside, or placed in front of, a lighting source, used to control the shape of emitted light. You can make the shadows of the projection sharper by making the lightsource smaller in relation to the gobo stencil, use non-diffused light sources, and/or increase the distance of the gobo from the light source. Miniature krypton light bulbs that are used in Maglites can produce extremely sharp shadows because the light source is so small. Non-diffused tungsten light bulbs can also be used and create decently sharp shadows.
The Light Blaster is a type of gobo/light combo system that converts your portable speedlight flash into a slide projector. I prefer the Aaxa projectors because of the unlimited amount of patterns and sizes of projections that can be projected, however a speedlight would be better if you wanted to capture highspeed images of say fog or rain, where you could see each individual particle very clearly with no motion blur.
Other than that, I have not looked into other projectors that could be used. If you have any specific recommendations for something you feel is better than the M5, feel free to leave the name of the projector down below in the comments and a reason or two of why it is good/better.
I’ve created an image pack which contains hundreds of images/videos that can be used with the Aaxa M4 projector (or any projector, really). The image pack contains a variety of shapes, colors, patterns, half-tone patterns, slit-scans, and videos, all organized in their appropriate folders with the filenames titled for ease-of-use.
After downloading the image pack, simply extract the folder onto a micro SD card or USB stick, put that in your projector, and you now have hundreds of images to work with! Boom done!
The Projector Photography Image Pack should be able to be purchased here within the next few months.
To get notified when the image pack is released, enter your name and email here.
Projector Buying Guide: Broad over-view of projector types. Reviews all of the vocabulary involved in the second half of the article.
Dani Oliver is a projection photographer who has explored in-depth photographing nude women, and has a very good book available that showcases many many photographs.
And that is that! The bottom line is, you can use this projector for all kinds of stuff! It has many applications for photography and something that could be a great addition to your kit! Hopefully the technology will improve with time as well, and some of the features I listed out will be a reality someday.
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