20 Creative Photography Hacks for Every Photographer

Photography is a constantly evolving industry, and it may seem impossible to stay on top all of the latest equipment and accessories. You might be envious of professional photographers who appear to have every camera and lens you could want. But you don’t need to spend your money on a bunch of new equipment to keep up. The truth is, many of the most interesting photography tricks don’t require a big investment. You can do many of them with a smartphone or standard DSLR and common items that you already have around the house. Here are 20 of our favorite creative photography hacks for new and professional photographers.

1. DIY underwater housing

Want to get underwater shots and don’t want to invest in expensive underwater housing — or even worse, cheap housing that leaks? Simply place your smartphone in a clear glass or plastic cup and lower it into the water. You can use a vase or fishtank for larger cameras. Just lower the lens below the surface of the water, and get some shots of your subject in the pool or bathtub. Be careful not to drop the cup!

2. Use Vaseline

This is an old trick that still works! In the early days of Hollywood movies, cinematographers would rub Vaseline on their lens filter to get a dreamlike look. Use this trick to give your subject a soft glow without having to over-do the make-up. Don’t put the Vaseline directly on the lens, though — rub it on a filter or piece of clear plastic.

3. Make bokeh shapes

“Bokeh” is a Japanese word that refers to the blur in the out-of-focus part of an image. Use black posterboard to cut out interesting images, such as tiny circles or stars. Cover the lens with the posterboard and experiment with different focal lengths.

4. Make your own ND filter with welding glass

Instead of purchasing an expensive neutral density (ND) filter from your camera store, make your own with a piece of welding glass that you can get at any hardware store. Use this trick to create long-exposure images in black and white.

5. Use a pantyhose or stocking filter

Want to add a little color or diffusion to your images? Grab a nylon stocking and slip it over the lens. Attach it with a rubber band and you’ll have your own DIY lens filter. Use white stockings for a neutral effect, or try something more colorful.

6. Make a DIY lightbox

A lightbox is a must for any product photography that requires you to take well-lit photos of small objects. You can make your own lightbox using a cardboard box and plain white fabric. Save yourself $100 and rig it up yourself with some tape and scissors.

7. Use a sandwich bag

Cover your lens with a plastic sandwich bag for a DIY haze effect.

8. Use fishing wire

Lens flare can add some life to an outdoor landscape shot. Attach a thin length of fishing wire across the lens to achieve this effect. The wire won’t show up in the final image — just the light bouncing off of it.

9. Shoot through wool

Grab your favorite holiday sweater and stretch it in front of the lens for a soft frame around your subject. Make sure that their face is in focus and the wool is not.

10. Use a tilt-shift app

While you can buy your own tilt-shift lenses, they can be pretty pricey. Fortunately, many smartphone apps these days have tilt-shift options — including Instagram. Simply add this effect to your photos to achieve that surreal, miniature-model quality.

11. Shoot through a tea strainer

Hold a tea strainer up in front of the lens to cast shadows on your model’s face. Vary the distance to change the patterns.

12. Attach a macro lens to your smartphone

Disassemble an old laser pointer or DVD player and remove the tiny macro lens from inside of it. Rig it to your smartphone by super-gluing it to your phone case, or attach it with a rubber band and popsicle stick.

13. Use reading glasses

If you have some old reading glasses lying around, you can tape them in front of your smartphone’s camera to achieve a magnifying effect.

14. Create your own beauty dish

A beauty dish is used in studio photography to cast soft, diffused light on a subject. Rig your own using a plastic soup dish and aluminum foil.  

14. Make lens flares with a CD or DVD

This creative photography hack comes straight out of the ’90s. Hold a CD in front of your camera so it reflects light back into the lens. This is ideal for creating lens flares that seem to move at random.

15. Tether your camera to your computer

If you’re trying to shoot in tight spaces, you may not be able to look closely at the viewfinder when you click the shutter. Link your camera via Bluetooth or WiFi so you can inspect the images in real time.

16. Rent from a friend

Don’t pay rental house fees for equipment. Use a peer-to-peer rental service like Kitsplit to rent available gear from a fellow photographer in your neighborhood.

17. Subscribe to the Netflix of camera gear

Parachut lets members try out new camera gear with no late fees or time limits. Pay an annual membership fee and you can keep each item for as long as you need it. When you’re done, send it back using Parachut’s free shipping service and request the next piece of equipment.

18. Book a studio for the day

Not enough natural light at home? Had to cancel a shoot due to inclement weather? Don’t worry — you can choose from one of the available studios and artist lofts on Peerspace and schedule your shoot in a beautiful indoor location.

19. Schedule your Instagram posts

Do you use social media to market your photography business? Instead of manually posting photos from your smartphone every day, use a scheduling tool like Later to line up a week’s worth of posts in advance. This excellent resource from Bulk.ly breaks down exactly how to tackle scheduling on Instagram, too.

20. Sell stock photography

It never hurts to make a little extra money from your photography talents. Sign up for a platform like Shutterstock or Twenty20, where customers can license your photos for their own use and pay you royalties.

These are just a few of our favorite creative photography hacks. There’s no limit to how creative you can get, even if you don’t have access to the latest professional equipment. Try some DIY lighting rigs or download a new smartphone app. These tips will get you thinking outside of the box and creating more interesting, innovative photography. 

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