Photography tips

CD rainbow macros

Before you toss that scratched CD, add it to your bag of photo tricks. Mount a macro lens on your camera, or use whatever means you have to get close to your subject. Put the CD down with the reflective, non-printed side up. Then, with an eyedropper or other tool, place small water droplets all over the surface of the disc. Focus your shot and get creative. The lighting is purely up to you. Perhaps try some shots in direct sunlight where the intense light will really pop the rainbow spectrum. Maybe try a small flashlight. Try a long exposure and light-paint the droplets. Anything goes when you’re making abstract images.

Big results with little lights

When we used film or less-sensitive digital cameras, big and often hot lights were needed for indoor photography. With the advent of LED lighting coupled with cameras offering low noise capabilities, we can now make images with very little light. Also, when doing still-life photos, shutter speed can be anything you like: full seconds, or even minutes, if necessary. Now almost any lighting instrument can be used with some ingenuity. Small LED flashlights can also be used for light painting. I have a collection of various flashlights (aka “torches”) and other LED lighting gear, which I’ve typically bought for just a few dollars online or at the local hardware store. Finding new ways to creatively use these little lights has allowed me to make some creative images. Take a look at this article which explores this topic further.

Reflect on this

You can take a still-life or product photo up another notch by shooting it on a reflective surface. You might think a mirror would be a natural choice for this, but because both the glass surface of a mirror, as well as its silvered backing, are each reflective, you will get two sets of slightly separated reflections if you shoot objects on a mirror. A better choice is a piece of acrylic plastic sheet, also known as plexiglass. You can get this in many colors, but I find a very dark black plastic sheet creates a look I like. (A piece of black tile would work well too, but I’ve not been able to find larger tiles.) Shoot with a black backdrop and you can isolate your subject nicely.

Bokeh with flair

Pronounce it how you like; bokeh refers to the look and quality of out-of-focus elements in a photo. Bokeh becomes especially noticeable when the out-of-focus elements are specular highlights. Different lenses with different optics, different aperture blade shapes, and different numbers of blades will produce different kinds of bokeh, as will the photographer’s choice of aperture. Here’s a way to go a step further and make patterned bokeh. Lay a filter the size of lens you intend to use on a piece of cardboard, trace around it, and cut out the cardboard. Now cut a shape, such as a small star, into the center of the cardboard disc you made. Place the disc over the lens and tape it there, or sandwich it between the lens and a filter. With a wide aperture (a 50mm f/1.8 prime, the “nifty fifty,” works great), shoot something with some specular highlights and ensure those highlights are out-of-focus. The highlights will now be the shape of your “bokeh filter.” Rather than make your own bokeh filter, you can also buy patterned bokeh filter kits with more elaborate shapes than you could probably cut yourself. For folks into 3D printing, this could also be a good project.

Bag a vignette

You may have heard of accessories called Lensbabies, a collection of adjustable and specialized lenses designed to give artistic, soft, blurred, and other looks to your image. Now, I won’t pretend this trick will do for a few cents what specialized gear costing a few hundred dollars can do. But here’s a way to bag some interesting, Lensbaby-style images for dirt cheap. Here’s what you do: Get a plastic sandwich bag and tear a ragged hole in the bottom of it. Pull the bag over your lens so that portions of the bag intrude into the edges of the image. Focus on your subject. Viola, you have “Baggie FX.” Play with the positioning, the size of the hole, various apertures, and lighting. Photo accessories don’t get any cheaper than this.

Always carry a camera

Our final tip is perhaps the most obvious: Always have your camera with you (something that’s easier today than it ever has been before thanks to the prevalence of great cameraphones). The deeper you get into street photography, the more you will notice your eyes continually searching for a frame — even when you’re not actively shooting. Street photographer Alex Webb once famously said, “This kind of photography is 99.9% about failure.” So to hit that 0.1% of success, your camera should never be left at home collecting dust! And here’s a final bonus tip: Get out there and enjoy it! It’s natural to feel skittish about taking pictures in public, but street photography is one of the most rewarding genres you can practice, not just from a creative standpoint, but in gaining vital life skills, too. It builds confidence, social skills, and the ability to understand and appreciate human behavior to a new degree. When traveling, it forces you to slow down and be more mindful of your surroundings. Street photography also provides a future historical record of everyday life, telling different stories than the major events that grab headlines or make it into TV news.

The rule of 36

Before the digital world, photographers had to be more selective with the images they took. The DSLR blew this away, and photographers no longer had to be concerned with wasting a frame. The consequence of this is that photographers would “spray and pray,” rather than be more analytical of the space around them. If you use a digital camera, challenge yourself to go out and only make 36 frames (the standard number of exposures a roll of 35mm film would give you). You’ll find you think twice about hitting the shutter button and become more focused on whether or not it’s worth taking a shot of the scene you see in front of you.

Use a camera remote for new angles

Using a camera remote opens the door to more creativity. Let’s say you want to create a photograph from a low angle, you don’t want to lay down in the middle of a busy street. Instead, by connecting your camera to a wireless remote you’re able to put your gear on the ground and take a step back from it. This technique also allows you to use slow shutter speeds than if you were handholding the camera. This is great for when you want to keep the buildings sharp but add some motion blur to the people in the frame as they walk through it. Today, many DSLR and mirrorless cameras come with built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. This gives you the option of controlling your camera settings and even previewing the image through an app on your smartphone. To the passing public, you look like any other person on their phone. Little do they know you’re controlling your camera and creating street photographs of their candid movements. If your camera does not come with built-in remote control functionality, check out this list of external camera remotes and triggers.

Stop chimping

Chimping describes the act of reviewing each photograph you make on the LCD screen of your digital camera. While it makes sense to do it in slower-paced genres of photography, from our experience it has no place in street photography. Each time you review an image, you’re missing other exciting scenes going on around you. In street photography, there is no take two. Almost as soon as a great moment arrives, it’s gone. The more time you keep your eyes up, the more chances you’ll have of capturing it. You can turn off automatic image review in your camera’s settings. We recommend doing this to avoid the temptation to chimp, allowing you to be more focused on what’s happening around you.

Don’t be afraid to talk to people

While photographing people in public spaces is generally fully within the law (unless you’re doing it for commercial purposes), that doesn’t mean people have to be happy about it. If you see someone who looks interesting and you’d like to take a close-up portrait of them, approach them with your camera down first. It just takes a second to introduce yourself, let them know that you’re shooting street portraits, and ask to take their picture. Many people will say no, and as hard as rejection is, that’s OK — just move on and try not to feel too discouraged by it. You may be surprised by how many people are happy to pose for you.