Photography hacks

20 DIY photography tips to save money

August 17, 2019

Photography is a fantastic quest. If you love to shoot landscapes, owning a camera lets you enjoy the great outdoors, and if you shoot portraits or the street, you get social interaction with people. In many ways, photography is a hobby or a totally positive way to make a living. However, photography is not always cheap. The latest cameras and lenses can turn out to be a serious investment, and that’s before you even start evaluating the lighting and all the other accessories. But what if we told you that there are ways to save money – tips, tricks, and tricks (many of which are used by professionals) to get around those heavy grafts to your wallet? Well, we’re sharing 20 of the most useful, budget-friendly tips that will not only add something new to your shot, but also help make the photography process easier. Let’s get started.

Credit: Matty Graham

1 Create highlights using a smartphone

Many photographers shell out a lot of money to add a dash of creative magic to their images, but the truth is, you’re carrying something small in your pocket right now that can make a big difference in a landscape scene. Place your smartphone face up at the bottom of the lens and it will add a reflection effect to your scene. For best results, make sure the screen is free of smudges and remove any bulky casing first.

2 stay organized with a label maker

Finding a kit will cost you time and slow down your creativity. Using a standard desktop labeler to print the lens name will help you identify it quickly to speed up your workflow. You can also add an email address in case you misplace the kit item and it may be returned to you.

DIY CD flare hacks

Credit: Matty Graham

3 Add highlights with a CD

Let’s face it, nobody uses CDs anymore, but before throwing them away in favor of your MP3s, slip one in your bag. The surface of a CD can be used to catch light and add a creative touch to your frame.

4 Spray water to simulate rain

Create a dramatic portrait by removing the back of a large photo frame or use a window. Have your subject hold the frame / sit behind the window so they can compose their face in the middle. Use your water atomizer (see Hack 14) and spray the glass to recreate the look of rain.

Credit: Matty Graham

5 Battle rocket with a coffee

Stray light can enter a frame when light hits the front element of your optics and creates specular halos. While this can be used creatively, many photographers prefer to prevent it by using a lens hood. However, what if you’re on the go and haven’t brought the hood with you? Well, there is a solution: stop for a coffee and grab two paper cups (one for your coffee and one to slip over your lens). Turn the cup over and use your keys to punch a hole in the base. Continue to widen the hole until you can snuggle the cup onto the lens.

6 use basic kitchen appliances to add a touch of steam

Take food photography to the next level by using a kettle to steam the frame. Try to backlight the vapor as this will make it more visible in the image.

DIY hacks bit by bit

Credit: Matty Graham

7 Stable support on a low budget

One way to make a makeshift camera mount is to remove the lace from your boot, make a loop, and place it over your lens. Place the other end of the cord under your foot and lift the lens to keep the cord taut – this tension will keep the camera steady. While it might not be suitable for ultra-long exposures, this DIY hack certainly does the trick when shooting in low light.

8 use a CD case and petroleum jelly for an artistic blur

Pack half a CD case and petroleum jelly in your kit bag and when you reach your location, spread the petroleum jelly around the edges of the CD case, which will create an ethereal-looking blurry effect on the frame.

DIY hacks studio-style photos with LEDs

Credit: Matty Graham

9 studio-style shots with one LED

Head to any pound store and you might find an LED light. Combine this with a sheet of A4 paper to diffuse the LED and place your subject on a curved card sheet and you will be able to create high quality product images. Turn off any ambient light sources and set the camera to manual so you can control exposure for a low-key look – if you need to fill in the shadows, use a second sheet of paper to bounce the LED back toward the subject.

10 use sunglasses as a filter

One of the advantages of shooting with a small camera like the Ricoh GR III or the Sony RX100 is that you can embark on a day of photography without having to carry a bag of lenses and filters. However, what if the lighting conditions change and you want to use a camera with a polarizing filter? Well, before you go out, put a pair of sunglasses on your head. You can use the sunglasses as a makeshift polarizer thanks to the small dimensions of the camera lens – if you were using a DSLR, the optics would likely be too large.

DIY hacks frozen fingers

Credit: Matty Graham

11 banish frozen fingers

Have you ever taken a tripod while photographing landscapes on a frosty morning? Metal feet can turn your fingers into ice cubes, but there’s a quick fix. Take a foam pool noodle for a few pounds and cut a length. Make a slit on one side and slide it over the tripod leg. If you need it for a tighter fit, wrap duct tape around the foam.

12 Be discreet with duct tape

Got a brand new camera, but worried about bringing it out, especially in crowded urban areas? The solution to turning your shiny new camera into an indescribable, ultra-discreet object that won’t raise eyebrows is a roll of inexpensive black tape. Using the duct tape to cover the badges and model names will not only disguise the camera, but also provide an added level of splash protection.

DIY hacks laptop background

Credit: Matty Graham

13 use a laptop for amazing backdrops

Think you need a huge studio and deep pockets to create awesome backgrounds? Well, in fact all you need is an internet connection. Search Google for the type of background you’re looking for, whether it’s re, bokeh lights, color, or texture. Sit behind your subject and use a shallow depth of field, keeping your subject in the foreground very sharp to create a soft, blurry effect.

14 Fake morning dew with a water atomizer

The flowers are so much more beautiful when captured in the morning light, with a dusting of dew droplets clinging to the petals. However, you can bypass the early wake-up call by using a standard garden water atomizer bottle, which can be scooped for a few pounds, to recreate the look of morning dew.

DIY suitcase hacks for goal

Credit: Matty Graham

15 Use a long lens suitcase

Rolling cases for larger telephoto lenses can be pricey, and after all, if you’ve just shelled out a lens like a 300mm lens or 150-450mm zoom, you’re likely looking at pennies. One solution is to buy a carry-on-sized hard plastic rolling suitcase for just £ 20 – about a tenth of what you can expect to pay for a professional version. Add some foam to keep the camera / lens assembly in place and you can carry your pride and joy in a protective case.

16 Fill a ziplock bag with rice as a support

Ottoman mounts are great for supporting the camera when shooting from an ultra low position or when filming from the seat of a car, as they stabilize the camera and provide a buffer between the camera and the floor or paint your car. While these aren’t the most expensive accessories, you can still save a few pounds by finding a ziplock bag, the type you keep food in the freezer in, and stuff it with rice.

DIY hacks use plates with a tripod on the beach

Credit: Matty Graham

17 Use plates when shooting with a tripod on a beach

Anyone who has tried using a tripod in wet sand will know how frustrating it can be when the feet dig in. The solution is to slip three paper plates into your kit bag. Using one under each leg will evenly distribute the weight of your gear and prevent sagging. This is useful when shooting a long exposure that would otherwise suffer from the tripod sinking into the ground, ruining the image.

18 Use a sieve to add texture

There are many objects you can use to recreate the look of what professionals call “gobos”: essentially objects that sit between the subject and the light source. For tight portraits, a standard kitchen strainer will introduce an interesting texture, while for wider shots, something like patio furniture will create the same effect.

DIY hacks diffuse light with a bottle of milk

Credit: Claire Gillo

19 Diffused light with a bottle of milk

Yes, we know plastic bottles are bad, but you can recycle a plastic milk bottle by cutting off the top and sliding it over the end of your flash, which will do a great job of diffusing the light. Remember to drink the milk first.

20 Use a box to create a flash grid

Is the light from your flash too harsh? You can use a simple cardboard box to modify the light. Use a box that contains corrugated cardboard and cut strips that match the length of your flash head. Stack the strips and secure them with masking tape so that the light must pass through the corrugated cardboard before reaching your subject. You can find many other inexpensive DIY light modifier ideas on the internet.

Matty graham is a professional photographer and content creator based in Lincolnshire. Former editor-in-chief of a photography magazine, he now creates a range of digital content, including photography and filmmaking.

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