9 Weird Photography Tricks That Actually Work!

1. NO TRIPOD?  USE A LAMP!

Want to take a group photo but don’t have a place to set the camera?  Just whip the lamp shade off a lamp and screw your camera onto the lampshade-holder.

The thread size of the bolt on a lamp shade is exactly the same size as the filter thread used on tripods, so your camera will easily attach.

Not only will your party and indoor pictures look better, but you’ll look like MacGyver in front of the group.  Not bad.  This tip doesn’t come in handy every day, but you’ll like the coolest photography nerd on the planet when the situation arises.

2. HOTSHOE PEZ DISPENSER FOR KIDS

Shooting photos of kids can be quite the feat.  It seems like they are interested in looking at everything BUT the camera.  I have two kids of my own, and I know that the only way to get them to smile and look at the camera is with a good bribe.

The perfect solution is to buy a simple PEZ dispenser on the hotshoe of your camera!  The base of the PEZ dispenser is a tiny bit wider than a standard hotshoe, so you’ll have to trim it just slightly with a kitchen knife before the shoot.

Then, when the kids are being good and looking at the PEZ dispenser, you can have them come up and grab a little candy periodically during the shoot.  It’s pure genius.

3. DAY TO NIGHT IN A FLASH

Sometimes you’re out shooting  portraits on a bright sunny day and the light just looks too… natural.  I often find this is the case when shooting a wedding or engagement when I’m shooting at a park or other outdoor location and I get bored with the same lighting in every shot.

One trick that I really enjoy is to turn up the power on my flash to the max.  This will, obviously, make the subject extremely bright.  If you change your camera settings to expose for the subject, it will make the background look extremely dark because the flash didn’t hit it.

This makes it look like it’s night time even if it’s the middle of the day.

4. REMOVE THE LENS FOR MACRO

This is the coolest camera trick I’ve seen in a long time.  If you take off your lens and hold it in front of the camera, you get a macro lens!  I was really skeptical about this, but I just tried it and it worked like a charm.

There are four things you need to know about using this trick: (1) Your camera won’t take a picture with the lens off unless you’re in manual mode.  (2) The best focal length seems to be around 50mm, so either a 50mm prime or an 18-55mm kit lens would be perfect! (3) Obviously, you lose autofocus since your lens isn’t attached to the camera.  Focus is achieved by simply moving closer to or further away from the subject, and (4) The camera can’t open up the aperture, so you’ll do it with your hand.  On the back of the lens (the side you mount on the camera), move the little plastic slider piece that controls the aperture.  If you look in the lens while doing it, you’ll see the hole open up.

If you want to take this a step further, you can buy a reverse lens mount for $5 or $10 which should sharpen up the images quite a bit since it will hold the lens more solidly.  Also, be sure to use a tripod when doing this or any other macro photography.  With such fine detail, even a tiny movement can destroy the sharpness.

5. DELETE TOURISTS FROM TRAVEL PHOTOS

This is an awesome trick for travel photographers.  Sometimes you’re at an amazing location, but there are people in the way of your shot.  If you want to take a picture of a landmark and people are in your shot, you will likely spend the rest of your adult life cloning people out of the shot unless you try this technique.

Step 1: Set your camera on a tripod.

Step 2: Take a picture about every 10 seconds until you have about 15 shots, depending on how fast people are walking around.

Step 3: Open all the images in Photoshop by going to File > Scripts > Statistics.   Choose “median” and select the files you took.

Step 4: Bam!  Photoshop finds what is different in the photos and simply removes it!  Since the people moved around, it fills the area where someone was standing with part of another photo where no one was there.

UPDATE: The “statistics” script mentioned here is only available in Photoshop Extended or in the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop; however, as someone mentioned in the comments, you can get a somewhat similar effect in recent versions of Photoshop Elements by going to Enhance > Photomerge > Scene Cleaner.

6. SHAPED BOKEH OUT OF PAPER

We all love to see beautiful bokeh in the background of our photos, but what you may not know is there is a really simple way that you can change the shape of the light bursts in your bokeh.

All you have to do is cut out a piece of black paper the size of the front element on your lens.  Then, use a sharp kitchen knife or razor blade to cut a shape on in the middle of the paper.  The shape should be slightly larger than a thumbnail or about the size of a U.S. nickel.

Keep in mind that you’ll only see this effect work if you are shooting with a large aperture, so a 50mm f/1.8 would be a great choice for this project.  If you’re shooting at f/5.6 on a kit lens, you likely won’t see the effect at all.

7. REFLECTOR AS STUDIO BACKDROP

Sometimes when I’m shooting outdoor portraits, I see a pose or an expression for the model that makes me wish we were in the studio so I could photograph them on a white background.  Sometimes a white background is the best way to focus all attention in the photo on the model, and it gives the photo a bright and clean look.  When I’m in this situation, I often grab a simple $25 reflector and use it as a studio backdrop on the spot!

The trick for making this technique work is to use positive exposure compensation.  The camera will try and dim down the white background to a dull gray because it thinks the white is overexposed.  About 1 stop of exposure compensation will make the reflector background look bright white.

8. CAMERA STRAP GND FILTER

This is my all-time favorite landscape photography tip because I use it all the time and most people have never heard it before.  When shooting landscapes, the sky is often much brighter than the rest of the landscape so you need something to darken down just that top part of the photo.  A graduated neutral density filter does exactly that.

A GND filter is a piece of glass that is darkened at the top and which gradually tapers off to clear.  The photographer simply holds this filter in front of the lens to cover the sky and it darkens the sky without affecting the landscape underneath.

Call me forgetful, but I often forget to bring my GND filter with me when I’m shooting landscapes, and it can ruin the shoot if I can’t darken down the sky to balance the exposure.  One trick I’ve learned is that you can simply use anything dark (a black piece of paper, a camera strap, etc) to hold in front of the lens for part of the exposure and the same thing is accomplished.

This makes it so the top half of the picture only sees light for half of the time, so it is much darker.  And no, you won’t see the camera strap in the photo since it’s black.

9.  INSULATION REFLECTOR BOARD

I debated whether or not this counts as a “camera trick” or if it’s really just a super-awesome reflector that costs basically nothing.  Call it what you will, but it works so well that I have to share this tip.

Circular reflectors are excellent for improving the lighting in your outdoor portraits.  By holding them to reflect the sun’s light, you can fill in shadows and put beautiful highlights on the face of the person you’re shooting.  However, most circular reflectors only work for a head-and-shoulders shot and only for one person.  You can purchase a large full-body reflector, but they usually cost around $70.

One trick I learned from a photographer who shoots celebrities is to simply purchase insulation board for $5 and then cover the back and edges with white duct tape.  You’ll find insulation board with reflective silver backing at any home improvement store.  It comes in several sizes.  I chose one that is 4 feet (1.2 meters) in height.

This simple solution gives you a very large reflector that is lightweight, and you can use one side to reflect silver and the other side to reflect white.

Thanks to ImprovePhotography for the tips.

10 Quick Tips to Fix Your Bad Photos

Digital photography has democratized the medium. More people are taking more photos than ever before, and they’re sharing them online with friends and family in record numbers. It’s easy to place the blame on the camera (or your smartphone) if your images aren’t as nice as some others you see online, but by following a few guidelines you can improve the quality of your snapshots—without having to shell out big bucks for a new camera. Keep these 10 easy tips in mind next time you head out to capture the world around you.

1. Get Basic Composition Down

The heart of a photograph is its composition—the position of different elements in a frame. The easiest rule of thumb to learn and remember is the Rule of Thirds. Basically, you’ll want to break your frame into nine squares of roughly equal size. Try and align the subject of your photo along these lines and intersections and imagine the main image divided over these nine boxes. This gives you a more dramatic, visually interesting shot than one where you subject is located dead center. Many cameras have a rule of thirds grid overlay that you can activate when shooting.

2. Adjust Exposure Compensation

As long as you aren’t shooting in full manual mode, your digital camera is making decisions that determine the exposure of a photo—in English, how light or dark the shot appears. Generally speaking, a camera looks at a scene and tries to determine the appropriate exposure based on the correct lighting of a gray card, which is why there are special scene modes for snow—without them, the camera would try to make the white snow gray.

If a photo is too light or dark you can either delve through the dozens of scene modes that are available in modern point-and-shoot cameras, or simply dial in a bit of exposure compensation. Many cameras have a physical button or dial for this, identified by a +/- symbol. If your photo is too dark, move the scale up above zero; if too light, move it down a bit.

3. Choose the Right Mode

Your camera is likely to have scores of shooting modes, ranging from fully automatic operation to very specific scene modes. If you’re shooting fast action you can put the camera into Shutter Priority (“S”) mode and increase the speed at which a photo is taken—setting it to 1/125 second or faster will help to freeze action, and for really quick subjects (like the hummingbird below), use as short a speed as possible to freeze motion. In lower light you can use Aperture Priority (“A”) mode to make sure as much light is entering the lens as possible, or if you’re shooting landscapes on a tripod you can close the lens’s iris to increase depth of field, keeping everything in sharp focus from the foreground to the horizon. If you’re a DSLR shooter, you’re more likely to use the A or S modes, while point-and-shoot cameras will often feature more specific modes that cater to activities like sports, low-light use, or landscape shooting.

4. Think About Lighting

Pay attention to how much light you have and where it’s coming from when taking your photos. If you’re shooting outdoors, be careful not to take photos of a person when the sun is at their back. If you’re grabbing a photo in front of a monument or landmark and don’t have the flexibility to adjust your position you can use the camera’s flash to fill in shadows. You may have to manually activate the flash, as there’s a good chance that the camera will think that it’s unnecessary on a bright day.

5. Use Your Flash Wisely

Many a photo has been foiled by a flash firing too close to a subject. If your friends and family look like Casper the Friendly Ghost when you photograph them, chances are that you’re too close when snapping your photos. If you need to activate the flash, back up a bit and zoom in to get the proper framing. If things are still too bright—or too dark—check and see if flash compensation is an option. Many cameras allow you to adjust the power of the flash, which can help to add better balance to your flash-assisted photos. Adding just a little bit of light makes it possible to fill in shadows, resulting in a more natural-looking photo.

6. Add a Flash Diffuser

If dialing down flash power isn’t an option, you can also add a diffuser to help spread the light out. Smaller flashes aren’t able spread light across a large surface area, giving your subjects a deer-in-the-headlights look. Point-and-shoot users can tape a bit of wax paper over the flash to soften its output. DSLR users are best served by using an empty 35mm film canister—the milky variety used by Kodak—with a bit cut out so that it fits snugly over the flash. Photojojo has a tutorial that will walk you through the steps. If you don’t have any film canisters lying around, try asking at your local drug store or department store minilab—they’re bound to have dozens sitting in a drawer, and will gladly part with one. If making your own diffuser doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, consider the Gary Fong Puffer, a $22 accessory that will look a bit more professional when mounted on your camera.

7. Watch Your White Balance

Your camera will try and set white balance automatically based on the type of light in which you’re shooting. Different light casts different types of color—sunlight is very blue, tungsten lighting is yellow, and fluorescent is a bit green. In many cases, the camera will automatically detect what type of lighting you’re under and adjust the color in photos so that they look natural. But when White Balance isn’t right, you can get results like you see above—the image on the left is correctly balanced, and the one on the right is way off. If you’re shooting under mixed lighting, or if the camera is just having a hard time figuring things out, you can set the white balance manually. On most point and shoots you’ll have to dive into the shooting menu to adjust this, but many DSLRs have a dedicated White Balance button, often labeled “WB.” You can correct color in the included Mac or Windows photo editing apps later on, but you’ll get better-looking photos if you get the white balance right in the first place.

8. Use a Tripod or Monopod

Sometimes, the best way to get your shot perfect is to take some extra time. Using a tripod will allow you to set up framing, and can come in handy—along with your camera’s self-timer—for getting that shot of you and the kids in front of Mount Rushmore. You can get away with an inexpensive tripod if you’re a point-and-shoot user, although spending a bit more on a brand like Manfrotto or Gitzo will result in much less frustration than with the bargain brands that you’ll find at the local five and dime. DSLR users should definitely put care into selecting a tripod, as a set of legs and a head that are sturdy enough to hold the camera are paramount.

If you’re more of a run-and-gun shooter, a monopod—which is just like it sounds, a tripod with two of its legs missing—will help you stabilize your shots. Great for use at zoos and sporting events, a monopod is supplemented by your two legs in order to add stability to your camera—without the sometimes-cumbersome setup and breakdown required with a good tripod.

9. Be Selective

It’s easy to take hundreds of photos in a few hours when shooting digitally. But don’t just dump your memory card and upload all of the images to Facebook. You should spend some time going through your photos so you can eliminate redundant shots and discard photos that may be out of focus or poorly composed. It’s better to post a few dozen great photos by themselves rather than the same good photos hiding among hundreds of not-so-good ones.

10. Don’t Forget to Post-Process

Consider using software to organize and edit your photos. Apple Photos and Microsoft Photos supports baseic organization, as well as a number of editing tools. Performing some very basic editing on a photo can help improve its quality drastically. Cropping a bit can help with composition, and you can also rotate a photo so that horizon lines are straight. Getting your photos right in-camera is the larger goal, but there’s no harm in a bit of retouching.