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Projector Photography Tutorial + Aaxa M4 / M5 / M6 Review

Projector Photography involves projecting patterns, shapes, textures, or photos onto objects, people, and/or landscapes to create interesting effects and accentuate form.


The Projector

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+
Native Resolution 720p 720p 1080p 1080p+
Contrast Ratio 1:2,000 1:2,000 1:2,000 Black pixels w/ no illumination
Battery Life 90min 60min 60min 60min+
Chromatic Abberation? Yes Yes No No
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
Battery? Yes Yes Yes Yes
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.

Aaxa M4 Screendoor Effect (1:1)

The screen-door effect is more noticeable when viewing the image at 1:1, as shown above. The screen-door effect looks like little lines of un-illuminated space between each pixel, like a screen-door.

These Aaxa projectors have the rainbow-effect and do not have the best contrast ratio:

contrast ratio, rainbow effect long exposure

The image on the left demonstrates the 1:2000 contrast ratio, meaning that black pixels still project out light that can be seen (see the faint rectangle?). The image on the right demonstrates the rainbow effect and is a 1.6 second light painting long exposure of the same circle shape being projected as the image on the left, with the only difference being that I moved the projector back and forth to create light trails throughout the 1.6 seconds. As you can see, the circle does not render as white when moving the projector around, because the projector rapidly shifts between projecting red, green, and blue. In order for the projection to render with no rainbow effect, you will need to use a shutter speed of 1/80th or slower and make sure that the projector or whatever comes into contact with the light is not moving at a fast pace. You could also use a LCoS projector instead of a DLP projector. The projector was roughly 2 meters away from the rock.


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 4x4 pixels, it will resize that image to be 800x800. There should be an option that allows you to stretch it to fit screen (in this case 800x800) OR to display it as 4x4. (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.


Projector camera right, roughly 5 meters away from the tree base. See a previous image in this article to see how the screen-door effect is noticeable when this image is zoomed in at 1:1.


Notice how the 1:2000 contrast ratio is not noticeable in this photo - the projected blacks are not noticeable/illuminated. This is because this picture was taken just before night time, where there is enough atmospheric ambient light to over-power the black pixels of the projected light.

Notice how the 1:2000 contrast ratio is not noticeable in this photo - the projected blacks are not noticeable/illuminated. This is because this picture was taken just before night time, where there is enough atmospheric ambient light to over-power the black pixels of the projected light.


The screen-door effect can be significantly reduced when placing the projector extremely close to surfaces. Nothing really noticable shows up even at 1:1, besides the exception of maybe some chromatic aberration.

The screen-door effect can be significantly reduced when placing the projector extremely close to surfaces. No screen-door effect is noticeable even when viewing the image zoomed in at 1:1, although you may notice a tiny bit of chromatic aberration.



Concentric circles being projected onto tree branches. For tree branches in particular, placing the projector as close as possible to the camera will produce the cleanest, in-tact projection. The further the projector moves away from the camera, the more difficult it will be to identify what you are projecting and the image being projected will just appear to be a jumbled mess of light due to the chaotic complexity of the tree branches.


Using a projector to project specific colors works very well.

The projector can be used to light up your scene with psychedelic colors.


projection photography male model black and white grid



The sharpest lines able to be projected are horizontal and vertical lines. Diagonal lines can be projected, however you may see some pixelation. The screen-door effect is apparent when projecting horizontal, vertical, or diagonal lines. The screen-door effect is not noticeable in this image because the projector was close enough to the model. One projector aimed at his back, the other at his front.


Again, placing the projector very close to surfaces will create a cleaner projection.

Again, placing the projector as close as possible to surfaces will create the cleanest projection. This photo was taken with a shutter speed shorter than 1/80th, and thus the white grid looks red and green due to the rainbow effect.

Half-tone patterns work particularly well. This is a hand placed just above a table, with two projectors aimed at it, slightly above it.

Projecting half-tone patterns works particularly well, as half-tone patterns use geometric patterns to transition from light to dark.


Another half-tone pattern.

Another half-tone pattern.


square smoke fog projection

This is an image of a projector pointing directly at the camera. A hollow white square was being projected through fog created by a fog machine. ISO 3200 / F2.8 / 1/60sec / 24mm. Here is what a circle looks like, not pointing at the camera.


Same thing as above, except the projector is behind me pointing at the camera, projecting a space pattern through fog.

Same thing as above, except the projector is behind me pointing at the camera, projecting a star field space photo through fog. On-camera flash was used for fill light.


A spiral was being projected onto a wall/background creating a silhouette.

A spiral was projected onto a wall/background, creating a silhouette of the model, who was standing in front of the projector. You can see pixelation in this image due to the low resolution image that was used - remember that pixelation can be reduced by defocusing the focus ring on the projector, and can come out quite well with bold, simple patterns such as hypnosis spirals.



You can turn on Live View mode when using a DSLR or video camera and then plug it into an input port on the projector to project out what the DSLR sees... this basically means that you can project an image of what is already there onto what is already there, and then take a picture of it. You may need to use two DSLRs to do this though, as the DSLR you plug into the projector may not be able to take pictures and be in Live View at the same time.

projection mirror vortex

Automatic keystoning is a feature the projector has where it will automatically shift the perspective of the projection so it appears correct from the projector's point of view. In this picture, the flower of life symbol was projected onto cement and I traced it with chalk. After that, I put my camera right where the projector was and took a picture. The second image shows the same thing except it was taken at a different angle, and thus looks distorted from that point of view.

Keystoning is a feature the projector has where it can shift the perspective of the projection so it appears correct from the projector's point of view (vertical correction only). This picture was created by placing the projector onto a tripod, aiming it downward roughly 35 degrees or so, projecting out a symbol onto cement and tracing it with chalk at dusk. Then when in daylight, I put my camera where the projector was and took a picture. As you can see, it appears to be a perfect circle even though it is on a surface that is stretching out towards the vanishing point. The second image you see on the right is the same thing, just shot at a different angle, and thus looks distorted from that point of view. This technique can be taken much further to create realistic optical illusions - painting the cement to make it look like the asphalt has collapsed and there is a hole in the ground, for example.


Gradient tiles being projected onto a garden.

Gradient tiles being projected onto a garden. Note that this is not the same thing as going into Adobe Photoshop and placing the same gradient over an image - when a projector is used, real photons are hitting the physical 3D surface of the object you are photographing and taking its shape/form. The projection will cast shadows as well (depending on what you are photographing and what angle the projector is at), whereas Photoshop will not do that. Different material absorbs/reflects different wavelengths of light at different rates as well, which is another thing that is impossible for Photoshop to emulate.


This image was projected onto the floor to give it a retro-wave vibe.

This image, taken from my projector images pack (which I'll talk about later), was projected onto the floor to give it a retrowave vibe.

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.



Alternative Projectors

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.

Image Pack

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.

Related Content

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.


How To Create Physiogram Long Exposure Photographs

A physiogram is a single long exposure of a flashlight spinning around on a string that is tied to a ceiling. You heard me, simply find a way to attach your flashlight to a string or shoelace or something, then put your camera on the ground with the widest angle you can get (after getting the light in focus, then switching the focus off), turn out the light, turn on the flashlight, give it a good push, then take a long exposure of the physiogram. You can also achieve different kinds of effects by zooming in and out, or focusing in and out while the exposure is taking place. You can also use different colored lights, and blend them later in Photoshop. When you take the photo, I recommend using a 30 second (the maximum shutter time on most DSLR cameras, unfortunately) exposure, or, if you have a BULB mode on your camera, you can use that.

Examples of Physiography:

This last image was manipulated later on a computer.

You could theoretically create a physiogram with a sparkler too. Yep, a firework SPARKLER. How awesome would that be? I haven't done it before, however the idea would be to put your camera on the ground facing upwards underneath some protective glass. Tie the sparkler to a tree branch, weight it down somehow, and take the shot the same way you would take a regular physiogram.

You could also use a tripod pointing down at a mirror, with the light source above the mirror. This way you would capture the reflection, and you would be able to see through your viewfinder. I like using a wide angle lens and just putting my camera on the ground and taking the shot, however.

If your in a highschool photography class, this will totally flip people out. Most, if not everyone, will not know how you did it. At least that's how it was when I did it in highschool.

The Maglight Solitaire Flashlight is a neat little light that enables the head to be taken off, so it can be in "candle mode". This is great for physiograms and also any kind of light painting. You will definitely have an advantage when using it. You can easily change the colors later inside of Photoshop, or some other picture editing program by adjusting the Hue/Saturation and/or by creating a new layer with the blend mode set to Color, and then paint on that layer using a color brush.


Color Infrared (IR) Tutorial Walkthrough

The following content is an excerpt from the Trick Photography and Special Effects eBook. For additional content on IR Photography that has been reorganized, updated and revised, please consider getting the eBook.

These are infrared images; pictures with recorded light beyond the visible spectrum. You can take infrared photos by using an infrared filter that screws on the front of the lens, or you can convert your camera to take IR photos permanently.

Why Take Infrared (IR) Photos?
Infrared photography darkens clear blue skies a lot, but leaves the individual clouds very bright. Infrared photography leaves foliage (grass, plants, leaves) looking bright white. It allows you to take photos with longer shutter speeds, and gives your photos an awesome look in general.

ir remote

Nikon D50. ISO 200, 1/2 second, f4.8. This camera is very sensitive to IR light 🙂

Can my camera take IR photos?
Older Nikon cameras, like the Nikon D50 andD70 work very well with the Hoya R-72 Infrared Filter
. However, a lot of newer camera sensors now have a filter that blocks out IR light in front of the cameras sensor (to a degree). In order to find out if your D-SLR can take infrared photos, find a remote control that goes to your TV, or something similar. Take a 1 second exposure. During that exposure, click the power button on your remote, pointing it towards the camera lens. When you look at the picture on the LCD preview screen, you should see a light coming from the front of the remote. If the TV remote light looks very dim, the exposure time will have to be longer when using an IR filter. BUT, if the TV remote light looks pretty bright, your camera is well suited for infrared photography. Try doing this test with different lenses as well; some are better for IR photography than others. If you don't see anything coming from your remote, you won't be able to take infrared photos with your camera using an IR filter. You can however, get your camera's sensor modified by LifePixel. Conversion costs about $300-$500, and shutter speed times are normal, as is focusing. Your camera will be permanently modified for infrared photography!

But, if your camera passed the TV Remote Test, then you can go the easy/cheap route and start taking infrared pictures with the Hoya R-72 Infrared Filter. Mine was $54 for a 52mm sized filter.

Some lenses just don't work that great with IR filters and create hotspots. I myself however haven't had any problems with "hotspots" in any of my photogs before.

Here is a list of cameras and lenses that are good for IR:
Good/Bad Infrared Lenses List
Good/Bad Infrared Camera List

Taking Infrared Photos Using the Hoya R72 Filter:

Hoya R72 Filter

Hoya R72 Filter

When you get your filter, you will notice it looks almost black. Because the filter is so dark, you will need to focus your scene before putting the filter on. Once you have your scene in focus, screw your filter on, and then switch to manual focus. You CAN use autofocus with the filter on, but you have to be in broad sunlight for this to work, and it isn't always accurate....

Lenses focus differently when using an infrared filter. If you want technically sharper results, you can rotate your focus ring about 1 millimeter away infinite symbol (depending on your lens). Some lenses will have an infrared symbol on the lens itself, which is useful. Use that mark if it does. If it doesn't though, you'll have to play a little guess-and-check game to find the infrared focusing spot. You CAN use the cameras autofocus, it will just be slightly out of focus (I've taken many photos like this anyway.) Try a few test shots using the autofocus, you may find it acceptable. Also try using higher F numbers to increase the depth of field, that might help a little bit.

IR filters allows the use of longer shutter speeds.

Infrared Photography allows the use of longer shutter speeds.

You also CAN take infrared pictures without using a tripod, but it is not recommended. You will need to use high ISO numbers, and low F numbers, and those usually are not good for landscapes. Just avoid all of that mess by using a tripod. Your photographs will look a lot more professional.

Now, if you haven't noticed by now, the Hoya R72 filter is DARK. This will substantially increase shutter-speeds. If you need shorter shutter speeds, you can raise the ISO number and lower the F number. I usually don't do much of that myself, though.

If your photos are coming out too dark, just bump up the EV until you are satisfied. The shutter speeds will be quite long when using the IR filter (depending on how sensitive your camera is to IR).

Setting The White Balance for Infrared Photography:

Regular IR image, with no channel swapping

After taking some photographs with your filter, you may have realized that your pictures are completely RED. In order to fix this, just meter and set the White Balance with your filter on. Google "How to set white balance with [YOUR CAMERA MODEL]" for instructions, if you don't know how to do this already.

HOWEVER, a lot of cameras cannot set extreme infrared white balances in camera. If you can't get your camera to work, just shoot in RAW and set the WB later in post processing with a program called UFRAW. This method should work with any camera. UFRAW is way better than Adobe Camera RAW because it can set the white balance for infrared photography which A.C.R. can't properly do.

Editing IR Photos in Photoshop:
The popular look for infrared photography: have a blue sky instead of brown.

Image on the left is before the red/blue channel swap, image on the right is after it

Image on the left is before the red/blue channel swap, image on the right is after it

It's quiet easy to obtain this look. In Photoshop, go to Image > Adjustments > Channel Mixer.... Make sure the "Output channel" is selected on Red inside of the dropdown box. Type in 0 for red, and 100 for blue. Next, select the Blue output channel but selecting it in the drop down box. Type in 100 for Red, and 0 for Blue. You've just swapped all the red colors for all the blue ones. Feel free to experiment with other channel swapping variations, I've seen pink and yellow foliage before 🙂

red/blue channel swap

If your foliage in your pictures look too red-ish, and you want them pure white like snow, you can easily desaturate them using Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation. Select Red (Alt+3) and then slide the saturation slider all the way down to -100.

I would also recommend darkening the levels a little bit. The 2 examples above was not adjusted for that, and it looks a bit faded.

IR Examples Chart:


Keep in mind that this was a cloudy day. If it was a pure blue sky, the sky in the IR photos would look much darker.

Editing Infrared RAW Photos in Adobe Camera RAW:
If you want to set the white balance using Adobe products, you can download the DNG Profile Editor and then watch this video tutorial describing how it is done. But, like I said before, I recommend using UFRaw instead of Adobe products.

Using Two Infrared Filters May Get Better Results:
I have access to two Hoya R72 filters. I stacked them on top of each other and used both of them on my lens simultaneously. The results seem to have more color and depth. People seem to debate about this. What do you think?

The image on the left was taken with two IR filters, and the image on the right was only taken with one.  Red/blue channel swapped as well.  Nikon D50

The images on the left was taken with two IR filters stacked on top of each other, and the image on the right was only taken with one. Red/blue channel swapped as well. Nikon D50

Here is the video tutorial that goes along with this article. It isn't as detailed as the written article, but it has more infrared photo examples that this article doesn't have:

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