How to speed ramp and 5 questions to ask yourself before you do it (Video tutorial).

Remember when DSLR's first popped up on the scene and, overnight, indie filmmakers had access to shallow depth of field?  F1.2 everything!

It was cool at first—like anything that's new—but very quickly the super shallow focus and constant rack focusing became very distracting and cliché. Why? Simple: it didn't serve the story.

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

Now, that's not to say that shooting at F1.2 or rack focusing is always distracting or cliché, but if it's not motivated and story-relevant, it's not doing you or your film any favors.

Speed ramping is currently going through a similar moment right now in the filmmaking world, as manufacturers continue to pack higher and higher frame rates into smaller and more affordable cameras, such Sony's RX100 IV and RX10. In other words, it's the new shallow depth of field of filmmaking—finally accessible to the masses, and very tempting to overuse.

Speed Ramping: A shot that's speed ramped generally has 3 parts, a beginning and ending that are one speed, and then a middle that is a much different speed. Often the middle is much slower, nearly stopping on a key action, and then returning to normal speed moments later.

If it's done to serve the story—for affect—speed ramping is great way to guide your audience's attention toward a specific moment. If it's done purely for coolness—for effect—skip it.

Wondering how to tell the difference between affect and effect?

We talked to slow motion expert and Academy instructor Mike Sutton about this new-age conundrum. He in turn shared the 5 questions he asks himself before applying a speed ramp to his footage to make sure it always serves the story, while keeping his audiences entertained.

To speed ramp or not to speed ramp? 5 questions to ask yourself to guide your decision.


1. Are you serving your story?

Beginners often fall into the trap of using as many speed ramps as possible—just as a trick, not because it necessarily adds anything to their message. Instead, dig deeper and use it in ways that help you better communicate your story.

If you don't have a specific reason or purpose for the ramp, ditch it.

2. Are you highlighting what really matters in the shot?

Like with depth of field, you can use a ramp to draw your viewer's attention to where you want it. By slowing down the important parts and speeding up the not-so important parts, you are helping to guide your audience. 

Make sure you're actually drawing attention to most important moment of your shot. 

3. Are you doing it too often?

Speed ramping look cool, and therefore it's easy to want to overuse it. Falling into this trap has the unintended consequence of diluting the impact of the other individual speed ramps already in use.

When you're debating whether to add yet another ramp, consider how many you've already included to tell your story, and if adding another will make the others less powerful. If the answer is yes, don't add it.

Use fewer speed ramps to increase the impact of each.

4. Are you living in the shot for too long?

Sometimes when you're out shooting in the field you can't tell that, when slowed down, the action isn't really moving along. In fact, it's taking long—really long—to get to the point of the shot. Once in your editing suite and you see this, it's time to consider either cutting the shot or ramping it. 

Compress long shots when you want to keep the action going.

5. Are you too attached to the ramp?

Just because the shot was filmed at 240 frames per second, and was originally intended to be slow motion with a ramp, doesn't mean that it has to remain that way. If it's not helping your story, if you're not highlighting what matters most, if you have too many speed ramps, or if your shot is too long, bring it back to regular speed and move on. 

It's okay to ditch the ramp altogether.

Now, it doesn't mean you have to answer yes, yes, no, no, no to the above questions—or enter Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start (sorry, we had to go there)—to be able to speed ramp successfully. These are just starting questions—guides if you will—to help ensure maximum impact.

Still feel a speed ramp is in order? Well then, it's time to make it happen. 

Good news, Joe Simon is here to help! Below Joe shares his guide for speed ramping, one of his many Academy of Storytellers tutorials.

Joe Simon's Guide to Speed Ramping.

Have a question about speed ramping? Or maybe you have a different approach to making sure a ramp is story-relevant? Share it in the comments below!