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There is always an easier way to get slightly better images – by buying new gear. However, not everybody can afford a $100 neutral density filter, for instance. That’s why many photographers will be happy to know that there are some cheap alternatives that are available to everyone. If you are the type of person that likes to fiddle with household items in order to improve your creative process (like I am), here are a few do-it-yourself “hacks” that will inspire you to do so even more.
- Using Sunglasses as a Filter – Sunglasses are meant to block sun light entering our eyes. That means it can do the very same for the lens. You can use regular sunglasses to act like a neutral density filter or you can use graduated glasses to act like graduated neutral density filter. You can even use polarized sunglasses to act like a polarizing filter (not as circular polarizer though). The pro is that you get a ND filter or Polarizer for free. The cons, however, are that you probably will lose some sharpness; you’ll have to hand hold the sunglasses in front of the lens, and there will be some color cast since almost every pair of sunglasses has a certain base color coating. The color cast can be fixed in post processing by adjusting color balance and white balance. That’s why you’ll need to shoot raw.
- Producing Custom Bokeh Shapes – You can alter that as well. All you need is a piece of paper which is bigger than your lens filter size, and a scalpel/scissors. Just cut out a hole in the middle of the paper with the shape you want your bokeh (specular lights) to be in, stick that in front of your lens as a makeshift filter, and there you have it. It might take you few attempts till you get the right size of the hole. Just so you know, this will generate decent amount of vignette, and you’ll probably lose some light.
Produce custom bokeh shapes. Photo by vestman
- Creating Dreamy/Soft Images – All you need to get this effect is a sandwich bag or wrapping nylon. Wrap that around your lens, and let some of it stick over the front end of the lens in order to diffuse the light entering the lens. Don’t cover all parts of the lens since you won’t be able to get anything in focus. You can use colored nylon to simulate light leaks and similar color casting effects. There is another way to do this, but that involves smearing something on your lens, like vaseline. I wouldn’t recommend that since it takes hours of cleaning after it, and there is the risk of damaging the front element in the process.
- Double Exposures – All you need is a mirror or a prism. You can use a prism (the viewfinder part of an old camera, or you can buy a cheap broken vintage slr) to simulate something like double exposure. You can achieve that by holding the prism near the lens in order to project an image on the top of the image you are trying to get. It is a fun process that can fill up otherwise boring parts of the background of the images, for example. That will pretty much work with a mirror as well, just not so great, and the edges of the mirror will sometimes be visible.
- Cheap Macro – There are so many ways to do this. You can stick a fixed focal length lens upside down on an existing lens by using reverse rings, or you can stick the fixed focal length lens directly on the camera upside down. Vintage lenses are better for this purpose because of the aperture control. You can also purchase some cheap magnifying filters that will let you reduce the minimum focal distance by sacrificing image quality. Or you can simply use a magnifying glass for the same purpose (and same drawbacks).
Photographing macro on the cheap. Photo by Sam Droege
- DIY Fisheye – This one is just for the sake of having a fisheye effect. Images don’t really look that good, but for many photographers it doesn’t matter. This is done by duct taping a door pinhole with wide angle of view (fisheye) in front of the lens. In such way you get the fisheye effect. There are some lens filters that provide the same effect, only slightly better than the pinhole trick and easier to mount, but they will still be far from a real fisheye lens.
Fisheye effect. Photo by aurélien.
I hope these examples will help you produce some creative and fun effects in your images. Experimenting and combining DIY hacks for your photography can lead to very unique-looking images. Just don’t stop creating.
One last thing, all these DIY hacks are fun and cool mostly, but you must be careful with them. They aren’t worth doing if they damage your gear in the process. Think of and take care of your gear first.