Last Updated on
You don’t need to spend a lot of money to take unique, creative pictures. With an entry-level DSLR or mirrorless camera or even a smartphone, you can use a wide array of camera hacks to mix up your routine and create stunning, one-of-a-kind images.
The following easy camera hacks will help you start improving your photography today while spending almost no money.
Smear Vaseline on a Plastic Bag for a Soft Lens Effect
Many photographers are fond of the slightly distorted, dream-like quality that many vintage consumer cameras produce. You can create this effect for yourself with a ring of Vaseline around your lens. Leave the center of the lens free of Vaseline. Take the time to apply Vaseline to a plastic bag and then wrap it around your lens. Dabbing Vaseline directly on your lens may damage it. Stretching a pair of tights over a lens produces a similar effect as well.
You might also like: The Ultimate Guide to Photography Equipment for Beginners
Add Steam to Food Photos With a Laundry Steamer
There’s nothing quite like steam curls rising from a delicious meal to add authenticity to a food shot. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to capture those steam curls by the time you’ve plated and styled your food. A laundry steamer adds the effect perfectly. If you don’t already own a laundry steamer, consider picking up a travel-sized steamer. The travel version is less than half the cost of a full-size steamer and is much more portable, which is ideal for food photography.
Use Tinfoil to Create a Bokeh Wall Background
Tinfoil is one of the cheapest, most effective ways to create a stunning bokeh backdrop quickly and easily. Tinfoil is ideal for smaller photo shoots, but there is no limit to the size of the backdrop you can create with tinfoil. Make sure to position your subject about five to seven feet away from the background and to point at least one bright light source directly at the background. If you want to change the color of the bokeh, shoot with an external flash and a colored gel.
Make a Lens Hood or Rain Cover Using Items You Already Own
A lens hood is critical for protecting your expensive mirrorless and DSLR lenses. In the event that your camera slips out of your grip or suffers other damage, the lens hood will take most of the impact. In a pinch, a coffee cozy serves as a great lens hood. The next time you order coffee, save the hood. When you’re shooting in inclement weather or there’s a chance for rain or snow, protect your gear. A few popular hacks for rain covers include plastic grocery bags, Ziploc bags, bubble wrap, paper cups (simply cut the bottom out of the cup), and empty CD/DVD spindles.
Use White Paper or Poster Board as a Reflector
Unless a subject is lit perfectly from all angles, you’re bound to get a few harsh shadows in your images. A reflector significantly reduces these shadows. If you’re a professional photographer, it’s worth investing in commercial reflectors. As an amateur or hobbyist photographer or someone who’s simply getting their feet wet and trying different techniques, white paper or poster board is perfect. These alternative materials also work well in a pinch if something happens to your reflector or you don’t have it on you. Position the paper on the shadowed side of the subject to get rid of the shadows.
Sew a Beanbag to Reduce Camera Shake
Mounting a camera on a tripod is the most effective way to reduce camera shake. However, not every shooting situation is conducive for tripod use. There are many instances where a smaller, flexible item will work better. A DIY beanbag tripod is a simple, inexpensive way to get the stability you need to create crisp photos.
You might also like: Long Exposure Photography Tips
Shoot Through a Window or With a Glass Jar to Produce a Soft Effect
There are a couple of simple techniques to soften your subject for moody or romantic portraits. The first method is to place your subject on the other side of a window or a door with clear glass. The second method is to hold a glass jar with the bottom of the jar against the lens. If you aren’t happy with the results, re-position your subject behind the window or adjust the glass placement on the lens.
Make a Colored Filter
Adding colorful haze right to a picture is a fun way to punch up an image without using post-processing filters. There are a couple of popular ways to make colored filters. The first method is with colored cellophane bags. Secure one or several colored bags to your lens or lens hood using rubber bands. Layering bags will create different color casts in different parts of the image. The second method is to attach a few pieces of Scotch or clear tape to your lens hood. Then add color to the tape using markers. Always attach tape to the lens hood as opposed to the lens.
Diffuse Natural Window Light With White Paper or a Pillowcase
Natural light is ideal for photos because it’s free and produces beautiful images that are impossible to recreate with artificial lighting. Depending on the time of day and the direction of the light, sometimes the light coming in through a window is too harsh. Cut the light without compromising the color or tone by covering the window with white paper or a pillowcase. Many photographers like to use a sheet of poster board. In a pinch, any white paper, including printer paper, will work.
Make Shape Filters to Create custom Bokeh
The one requirement for shape bokeh is a bright lens. You can use any prime or zoom lens to create this effect as long as they allow for a shallow depth of field. Simple shapes are easiest to cut out, but you can create filters for any shape imaginable. Small craft paper punches also work well for making custom bokeh shape filters. Using black cardstock or construction paper, cut out or punch your shape. Cut it to size for a particular lens, and you’re ready to start shooting.
Are there any additional camera hacks you use to improve your photography? Share your best tips and tricks in the comments!
Rose Clearfield is a freelance writer and hobbyist photographer. She lives in southeast WI with her husband, son, and three cats. She bought her first DSLR in 2012 and hasn’t looked back since. With an education background and a passion for writing, she loves helping people learn how to take better pictures.