Use These Cheap Tricks to Spice Up Your Photography

You don't have to spend a lot of money to have fun with your camera.

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We here at Reviewed.com get to test and play with a lot of the best new cameras the world has to offer, but our testing procedures don't encompass everything you can do with a camera—not even close. Lucky for you, the internet is full of great ideas.

Now that digital cameras are in virtually everyone's homes—whether in the form of smartphones, point-and-shoots, or interchangeable lens cameras—there's a huge population of users doing endlessly creative things to get wild and unusual shots.

Some of our favorite techniques may involve breaking the traditional "rules" of photography, but getting messy is half the fun, right?

Bizarre bokeh

Make your photos extra-adorable on the cheap.

If you just love shallow depth of field photos with beautiful bokeh, you probably already know that there are plenty of lenses that can get you there. But get ready for a new obsession: If you want to get really interesting effects with out-of-focus lights, you can make your own bokeh shapes.

Change the shape of the lens opening, and you change the shape of the background blur.

This Instructable will guide you through the whole process, making it incredibly easy to create these practical effects. And for those on a budget, this is probably the cheapest hack discussed here: no Photoshop necessary! Though it's an old trick, it's a popular one—even showing up in some popular Hollywood movies.

This technique is ingenious in its simplicity. Specular highlights—the bright points of light amid all the background blur—are shaped by the opening in front of the lens aperture. Round lens, round bokeh. So to change their shape, all you need to do is mask out the part of the circular opening that you don't want. It's as easy as cutting a star, heart, or sports team logo out of a piece of black construction paper.

As you can imagine, all you need is a pair of scissors or an X-Acto knife, paper, tape, and a bit of trial and error. Samsung even went so far as to make a video showcasing some ideas to use with its NX series lenses:



If you want to go next-level, you can change the orientation of the shapes for a multi-layered effect. Here are some ideas provided by DIYPhotograpy.

Forced perspective

Fool your brain with practical effects.

A small special effects budget doesn't mean you can't take some brilliantly creative shots. One easy shortcut is to use toys, natural features, and your own body in concert with forced perspective. A favorite since the earliest days of visual art, it lets you create extremely convincing, mind-bending scenes using only found materials.

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No, the sun is not that tiny. [Photo credit: Flickr user meddygarnet]

Photographer and model-maker Michael Smith uses this technique in his stunningly realistic photos of model cars. At first glance, the effect is entirely convincing—mundane, even. Even when you get a glimpse behind the curtain, it's hard to believe they're not entirely genuine snapshots.

Of course, you're not limited to model cars, or even to small objects. Forced perspective works in all kinds of situations, as this great collection of examples helpfully illustrates. Let your imagination run wild and you'll get some fun results. Peter Jackson certainly did in shooting The Lord of the Rings.

Lego man in space

Meet the littlest Canadian cosmonaut.

Okay, this one isn't the cheapest on the list, but considering that you're literally sending a camera into space, it's pretty darn affordable.

Two Canadian teens recently sent a tiny Lego man into space, along with a hacked Canon point-and-shoot to document his out-of-this-world journey. The duo achieved this feat by attaching a huge weather balloon to an assembly holding their poor protagonist and a camera set to shoot continuously with an interval timer. The process was made possible with the help of some clever replacement firmware, available for many Canon compact cameras.



The little guy's journey may have been brief, but that doesn't take away from the fact that these guys sent a camera into the outer reaches of the atmosphere with little more than household items. This is probably one of the least practical camera tricks out there for the average user—especially considering the fact that you need to recover the hardware after it plummets back to Earth—but it's been attempted by a surprising number of amateur photographers. We can't think of a better way to get the most out of a cheap compact.

Use Photomerge to Remove People

Nobody likes a tourist, especially in photos.

Maybe it's just my provincial New Hampshire upbringing, but I'm not a fan of tourists—they ruin everything, especially photos. Thankfully, even if you can't get them to go away in real life, you can use a bit of Photoshop trickery to make them disappear from your digital images.

You can use a bit of Photoshop trickery to make tourists disappear.

Once you've found a landscape or cityscape you want to capture, you simply need to set up your tripod and start snapping photos. Lots of 'em. The minimum is three, but depending on how busy your scene is, you'll probably want a couple dozen or more, taken over the span of half an hour or so. The idea here is that, over time, the people in the shot will move around enough that every bit of the frame will be free of humans in at least one shot.

Once you've finished shooting, you can head home, fire up your copy of Photoshop and follow Adobe's helpful tutorial. End result? A shot of a normally crowded urban scene that'll look like it came straight out of 28 Days Later.

Insane snowflake macro shots

From Russia, with a point-and-shoot

Using a Canon PowerShot A650 point-and-shoot, some wood, a Soviet-era Helios-44M lens, and a whole lot of patience, Russian photographer Alexey Kljatov captured some of the most amazing shots of snowflakes you'll ever see. Shooting in RAW and averaging multiple shots (a different use for the same Photoshop process described above) to get rid of image noise, Alexey was able to use his home-made rig to shoot the notoriously short-lived and unique crystals.

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Inventive, incredible shots of snow. [Photo credit: Alexey Kljatov]

Can you do this one? Not without a lot of time and effort, but for the dedicated it could be quite a satisfying project. On the other hand, if you already own a DSLR, you can purchase a cheap reversing ring to spin your existing lenses around and get immediate super-macro results. (Make sure you buy a ring that matches your lens's filter diameter!)

And if you're interested in using older lenses in general, you should definitely check out the Soviet-era Helios-44M lens that Mr. Kljatov used for this project. It has one of the most interesting bokeh signatures out there, and it can be had for very little money. If you shoot with a Pentax DSLR, you can even get a native K-mount version!

Infrared photography

See like an android.

Human eyes are so last millennium—there are whole wavelengths of light out there that we can't even see. Ever wonder what you're missing, out beyond the edges of the visible spectrum? Well, wonder no more.

Infrared photography has been a favorite since the film era, but today's digital sensors make it easier than ever to capture the normally unseen light. If you own an old DSLR and have a bit of nerve, you can remove the built-in IR filter from the sensor and replace it with a filter that blocks visible light—permanently converting the camera to an infrared-shooting beast.

Alternatively, you could buy an IR filter for your lenses (be careful to pick the right filter size!), which blocks the visible spectrum while allowing IR wavelengths to pass. The advantage to this approach is that you can take the filter off and go back to snapping regular color photographs whenever you like.

What do infrared photos look like? That depends on what kind of IR filter you're using, what sensor is in your camera, and which lens you're shooting with. Typically, infrared shots produce very dark skies, very bright foliage, and a slight-to-severe color cast (when shooting JPEG) that is best removed by converting to black and white. The possibilities are near-endless, though.


These are just a few ways to get more mileage out of your camera gear, but there's a whole galaxy of DIY photo projects out there on the world wide web. Sites like Instructables, DIYPhotography.net, and even Pinterest are full of fantastic ideas that you can use.

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