Boost your creativity and save yourself some cash in the process with these simple yet highly effective photo hacks for accessories
How many non-photographic accessories do you use? When you think about it, it’s probably more than you realise. Some of these accessories will perform a unique function for which there are no ‘photographic’ equivalents, while others will do the same job as a photo accessory but just as well and for a fraction of the cost.
Using non-photographic accessories can get you out of a pickle in an emergency. Not to mention, they could save you a lot of cash in the process. Although some ‘photo hacks’ can be practically useless – the kinds of things that you would never do because, in reality, they’re more hassle than they’re worth; the hacks we’ve handpicked here really do work well, and they’re incredibly simple.
"Using non-photographic accessories can get you out of a pickle in an emergency. Not to mention, they could save you a lot of cash in the process."
1 Create a mini-infinity curve
Creating a mini studio on a budget is an effective technique for shooting small objects. Simply take a sheet of paper that’s larger than the object you wish to shoot. A4, A3, A2 and A1 sheets of white paper are perfect. Next, use Blu Tac to attach the top of the paper to a wall or something similar and then use more at the bottom to secure it to the floor or a table next to the wall.
The result is a perfect infinity curve that will allow you to capture cut-out shots of small objects. You can use window light to illuminate your subject, and a tripod to support the camera during a slow shutter speed. Alternatively, = bounce a flashgun off the ceiling above for perfect even lighting. This will allow you to shoot handheld and often results in better lighting than using window light.
2 Paint light with a torch or flashgun
Who says you need expensive studio lights to capture professional product shots? One light source is enough to paint your subject with light from multiple angles during typically long exposures in a room with the curtains or blinds closed. A torch, desk lamp or flashgun all work well, and the results can often imply that a high-end lighting set-up was used rather than just a single basic light source.
This image was taken with the drone on the wooden floor with a sheet of black card behind it to create a plain background. A flash was then used to light the top of the drone in one shot and backlight it in a second. These two images were then loaded into photoshop as Layers and the top Layer’s Blending mode was set to Lighten to allow the lighter parts of the shot to show through.
3 Make a reflector out of white card
Reflectors are one of the most basic, but also one of the most useful photography accessories you can own. And while some reflectors are inexpensive these days, if you find yourself without one for any reason, or you use one so rarely it’s not worth the investment, a white piece of card is the perfect substitute. White and black mountboard comes in A1 size and can also be used as a small photographic backdrop. Plus, you can cut the card down to a smaller size if it’s more convenient or use it at its full size.
White reflectors bounce soft even light back onto subjects, whereas silver reflectors bounce stronger, slightly harsher and more targeted light back onto subjects. If you’d like to achieve the effect of a silver reflector, simply cover the card in aluminium foil. This can be taped together rather than glueing so that it can be removed.
4 Use a cheap microfibre cloth as a rain cover
One of the problems with being an outdoor photographer is that you’re at the mercy of the elements. And the more often you shoot outdoors, the more likely you are to experience inclement weather. Many outdoor photographers carry camera rain covers, but if you don’t have one or you forget yours, a large and inexpensive microfibre cloth is perfect for keeping your camera and/or filters dry.
A pack of three microfibre cloths can be picked up for less than a cup of coffee, and always carrying them in your camera bag will mean you’ll have one to hand when you need them – whether that’s wiping your brow on a hot sunny day, keeping the sun off your neck, drying your camera or keeping it dry in the rain.
5 Create a lightbox using a window and sheet of paper
Not many people have lightboxes these days because they’re typically used for backlighting film negatives and transparencies. They’re also used by still life photographers to create perfect white backgrounds for certain types of shots, and this can be replicated with ease using just a sheet of white A4 paper and a few blobs of Blue Tac.
Attach the paper to a window using the Blu Tac and place the object to be photographed on the window sill in front of the paper. Now all you need to do is set the camera up on a tripod and you can begin shooting still life images with a bright white background. With this technique, you have to overexpose the image to ensure the object in front of the white paper is correctly exposed. This in turn makes the paper a bright white, featureless background like a lightbox.
6 Bounce your pop-up flash
Pop-up flashes on cameras may not be as powerful or versatile as flashguns, but they can be extremely useful in situations where you need a small burst of light. The only problem is, the light is harsh because there’s no diffuser and it’s straight onto the subject, so shadows are harsh and the lighting appears flat.
There are several ways to modify pop-up flash, and one that works well is to use a small piece of white card like a business card to bounce the light up to the ceiling for a more diffused result. With some pop-up flashes, you can gently wedge a white business card or a small rectangle of card into the flash mechanism, but with others you may need to use Blu Tac to hold the card in place. When shooting this way, you’ll need to use flash exposure compensation to make the flash stronger.
7 Reuse silica gel packs in your camera bag
Most of the products we buy these days come with silica gel packs inside the box to absorb any moisture that may occur during transportation and storage. But rather than simply throwing them into the bin, photographers can make good use of them and help to keep their gear in tip-top condition. This is most useful to photographers who work outdoors, such as landscape and nature photographers.
Outdoor photographers often work in all weather conditions, including rain. And even though you dry your camera and lens off before putting it back into your camera bag, there can still be moisture present. So, if you place one of two silica gel packs in your camera bag, they will help to absorb any moisture build-up as a result of rain or moving from cold to warm environments.
8 Use a TV or monitor as a backdrop
Clean and interesting backgrounds for portraits and still life shots can be tricky to find indoors. And even when you find one that works, depending on where it is you may need to light both your subject and the background. This isn’t a problem if you have two light sources such as flashguns or studio flash, plus plenty of space. But if you’re working in a small space or you only have one light, this could be difficult or impossible.
TVs and monitors can be huge, and the fact that they’re backlit means that the image they’re displaying is already illuminated. So, find a photo of an outdoor scene or something more abstract, and use this displayed on your TV or monitor as a backdrop for portraits and still life images. The on-screen image can also be blurred in Photoshop to create the illusion of a shallow depth-of-field.
9 Create reflections with your smartphone
Smartphones are fantastic devices in their own right, offering the ability to capture and edit Raw files. But they also make an incredibly creative and indeed useful photo accessory. When a smartphone screen is turned off it becomes black and highly reflective, so when held in the right position in front of your lens, you can create a mirror perfect reflection of whatever you’re shooting.
You typically need to hold the phone flat with the screen facing up towards the bottom of the lens, then autofocus on the subject you’re shooting and the reflection will be captured sharp, too. It’s a simple technique that can be used to hide boring foregrounds or to create surreal images where the reflection almost looks like a double exposure.
James is a freelance photographer and journalist producing content for photography magazines and websites and is a former deputy editor of Practical Photography magazine. He’s also the author of The Digital Darkroom: The Definitive Guide to Photo Editing.View all articles