Image by Anupam Hatui
Sometimes, seeing how a photograph is made is just as exciting as the photo itself. As any photographer knows, getting “the shot” is about so much more than hitting the shutter button. It requires hours of backstage planning, plenty of trial and error, and often, some pretty wild and ingenious rigs.
Thanks to the power of social media, we now have access to some of these behind-the-scenes tricks and secrets photographers have been using for ages, and boy, are they entertaining. The Instagram account Sh*ttyRigs, for example, currently has well over 115K followers and counting. They’re also educational. Little-known hacks are now accessible to everyone.
We asked more than ten innovative and resourceful photographers to tell us about some of the inventions and discoveries they’ve made throughout their careers. From bokeh to macro, learn how they create dazzling effects for a fraction of the usual cost.
Image by Katerina Klio
“Sometimes in my shoots, I use LED panels, and I attach colored silicone folders (the kind you keep papers in) to them in order to tint the light,” Katerina Klio tells us. “Sometimes, it is hard to find professional heat-resistant color filters, so I use these folders as a simple way to color light.”
Image by Toporkova
Shutterstock Contributor Toporkova recommends employing glass prisms for highlights, flares, and reflections, while others use simple household mirrors. “I like to use several small mirrors during filming,” the cinematographer Tatjana Baibakova tells us. “I position them in different places and angles to form flares and bright spots that increase volume and depth.”
Image by Luna Vandoorne
If you’re feeling creative, you can even use cellophane for some unexpected effects.“Once I used colored cellophane papers in front of the lens to add some texture and flares/leaks,” Luna Vandoorne says. “Natural light was coming from the left, which created that bokeh effect.”
Image by Kertu Saarits
Kertu Saarits, a photographer and Shutterstock contributor based in the United Arab Emirates, knows a thing or two about navigating difficult conditions. “Living and traveling in the desert does no favors for my equipment, so the best I can do is to clean any sand and dust from my gear promptly,” she explains. “Toothbrushes are a small, affordable, and easy tool I use to quickly brush the tight nooks and crannies clean, even when I’m in the field.”
Image by Yuya Parker
“Wooden skewers are great for making ‘flying’ objects,” the photographer Yuya Parker tells us. “You can buy them at any grocery store. They make it easy to capture different angles and positions, and they’re easy to remove in post.”
Image by Roberta Dall’Alba
“I usually make my own backdrops,” Offset Artist Roberta Dall’Alba explains. “They’re cheap and easy: you’ll need a plywood board, a brush and matte colors. You’ll save so much money, and you will be able to choose your favorite color combinations.” You learn more about her process over by watching this video and checking out her Instagram, blog, and website.
Darius Šulčius also makes his own backdrops using different materials and techniques. “I think DIY really boosts your creativity,” he tells us. “I’ve made photography backgrounds with aged wood logs, painted foam boards, etc.”
Image by 3355m
“I like to use vintage lenses in my work—old Zeiss, Takumar or Zenit lenses released thirty or forty years ago,” Toporkova tells us. “Sometimes, it’s hard to focus on an object using these lenses, but if you get to know them well, you will have soft and artistic pictures.” With a lens mount adaptor, you can put an older lens on a newer camera, combining the best of both worlds.
Hint: you can also create a soft effect by using petroleum jelly. Simply take some plastic wrap, fix it to your lens hood with a rubber band, and apply some jelly, making sure to avoid contact with the lens itself.
Image by Tomatito
As multiple insect-loving photographers told us last year, you don’t have to shell out the cash for a macro lens. Instead, you can reverse your old 35mm or 50mm lens and attach it to some extension tubes using duct tape.
Image by Spaskov
Need to get rid of those hard shadows? You probably have a cool diffusion fabric lying around the house, whether it’s a sheer, diaphanous scarf, a shower curtain, or even an umbrella. You can also try tissue paper and parchment paper. Try them all, and see what works best for you.
Image by Emily Mitchell
“A great way to get an aerial view with ever-so-slight motion in a video (or just a top shot photo) is by hanging your shoulder strap on the blade of a ceiling fan and using the remote,” Emily Mitchell explains. “I just hang it up there. Ceiling fan blades are straight and strong, and the camera strap has a rubbery side, so I just put that side toward the blade to keep it from sliding (not that it would, but you know, just in case).” She does not turn the fan on!
Image by Okssi
“I decided to build a softbox and an external light source,” Anupam Hatui tells us. “I used two cardboard shoe boxes of different sizes and painted their interiors white for good results. I customized a two-meter wire with a common holder and attached it in the middle of the boxes with CFLs and covered the open end with a thin white T-shirt. It worked fairly well for my indoor shots.”
Top Image by Kertu Saarits
Looking for more pro tips? Check out these articles:
Why You Should Get a Model Release for Every Shoot You Complete
5 Things to Consider Before Your Next Photography Trip
Explore 10 Pro Tips for Taking Better Videos of Food
Shooting Portrait Photography That’s Anything but Ordinary
Shooting Environmentally Conscious Images That Tell Stories
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