Photographers who produce images with the wow factor do two things very well. Firstly, they know how to use their camera creatively. Second, they know how to post-process their images.
I know what you’re thinking:
How do you learn to use your camera creatively besides pointing at things and press the shutter release?
Today I’m going to share these 21 insanely awesome photography tips and tricks with you. All you need is your camera (some requires a tripod) and 10 minutes to execute one of these techniques.
Let’s check it out!
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1. Use Freelensing To Create Tilt-Shift Effect
Tilt-shift is a technique that utilizes a specialized lens to create selective focus or simulating a miniature scene. A tilt-shift lens is often expensive, but you can create the effect with your non-tilt-shift lens in an unconventional way.
Freelensing works by you holding a detached lens in front of your camera and tilting it at different angles to create selective focusing. This is the same principle as a tilt-shift lens but without the specialized mount to the camera body.
To begin with, you need a lens that has a focal length of 50mm or more, anything less than that creates fuzzy images that may not be usable.
In aperture priority mode, select the widest aperture available. Any other aperture will not work unless your lens has a manual aperture ring (often in old lenses only). You should also switch your lens to manual focus and turn the focusing ring to infinity (with the ∞ sign).
Now, detach your lens while the camera is still switched on (don’t cringe!). Hold your lens and tilt it to one side while maintaining contact with the camera body on the opposite side.
Look in the viewfinder or the LCD screen, you’ll see part of the image is in focus and part is not. Tilt the lens at different direction and angle to change the plane of focus.
For example, when you tilt the lens to the right, the left side of the lens mount is lifted off the camera body while the right side remains in contact.
You’ll soon find that the side of the image in focus is the side where the lens is lifted off the mount. The focused plane shifts to the center of the image with a greater angle of tilt.
You may get many blurry images at first, but I promise you’ll eventually get the image you want with A LOT of practice!
2. Create Star Trails With Time Stack
Sounds pretty cool, right? Star trails images often have the power to mesmerize because of its phenomenal visual effect.
To your surprise, you can create the same effect with your camera too!
Normally, a tutorial on star trails with time stack is a long post. But I’m going to give you a super duper crash course here.
Essentially, you need to be at the right place at the right time with the right camera settings. I’ll explain.
Place: You need a location with minimum or no light pollution. This means away from the big cities and major highways. Luckily, you can find these places on the internet easily these days. Start with the International Dark-Sky Association.
Time: Moonlight and weather affect how much you can see in the sky. The presence of moonlight makes the stars appear dimmer. So, ideally, you want to have no moon in the sky (a.k.a. new moon). You can plan with this moon phases calendar. Weather is pretty self-explanatory, you want a clear sky instead of clouds obscuring the stars.
Camera settings: Use a fast lens. In my opinion, widest aperture of at least f/2.8. However, I’ve come across images with f/3.5 or even f/4. In manual mode, set the ISO between 800 to 1600 (experiment to get the best result). Use the 600 rule to get a rough estimation of your shutter speed. Focusing in the dark is tricky. You can manually focus on the brightest star, on an object in the foreground, or use the hyperfocal distance (if there is enough foreground to do so).
The 600 rule: This is to give you an estimation of what your maximum shutter speed should be before star streaks appear. All you need to do is divide 600 by your focal length. For example, if your focal length is 18mm, 600/18=33 seconds (maximum shutter speed). This formula is for full frame cameras, remember to add the crop factor to the focal length if you use a cropped sensor.
Tips: Use a tripod (must) and a remote release (optional). Find the North Pole (for Northern Hemisphere) or the South Pole (for Southern Hemisphere) if you want the stars to circle around a center point. To avoid motion blur, enable mirror lockup in a DSLR. Take at least 50 images to get long, beautiful star trails. The more images you get, the longer the trails. You can get an intervalometer to trigger the shutter release for you. Apply the same technique to clouds during daylight and be surprised by the results! Thanks to Matt Molloy’s tutorial on 500px ISO.
Post-processing: I use Lightroom and Photoshop, so I’m going to explain post-processing with these. In Lightroom, select all the images, right-click and choose Edit In > Open as Layers in Photoshop. Once in Photoshop, go to Edit > Auto-Align Layers to fix any minor inconsistency. Now, make all layers invisible except the first two. Change the blend more of the second layer to lighten (you’ll see the trails starting to build up). Next, make the third layer visible and change the blend mode to lighten. Repeat this step for all layers and fix any light trails from airplane or shooting star as you go along (unless you want to include them). This can be tedious, but you can automate the process with a plugin like this. Have fun!
3. Use Long Exposure For Light Trails, Smoothen Water, Create Light Painting and Ghosting Effect
These are just a few examples of what long exposure can achieve. You can also use this technique to remove people when shooting at a touristy spot. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination!
You need a tripod to stabilize your camera as any long exposure without it results in motion blur. How slow should the shutter speed be? It depends on how much light is available and what effect you want.
If you want to take an image of traffic light trails, simply compose and shoot like you normally do in aperture priority mode. Because of the limited light available, the shutter speed will be slow anyway. You can also step up the aperture to slow down the shutter speed more.
If you want an even slower shutter speed (e.g. 1 minute), you need a neutral density (ND) filter. It’s basically a transparent, dark glass that limits the amount of light passing through it. Place it in front of your lens in a filter holder to slow down the shutter speed considerably. Use this to smoothen water flow, create light painting or ghosting effect.
4. Bracketing Exposure Manually In Extreme Dynamic Range
Yes, we all know what automatic exposure bracketing (AEB) does. Why do we need to do it manually?
Sometimes, the contrast of the scene is so extreme that AEB is not capable of capturing the whole dynamic range. This is when manual bracketing saves the day!
When to bracket exposure manually?
Once you have bracketed with AEB, check the histogram of the brightest and the darkest image. If the graph touches the far right in the brightest image or the far left in the darkest image, then you should re-bracket your exposures manually.
First, take a shot like you would do normally in aperture priority mode. Make a note of the aperture, ISO and shutter speed. Switch your camera to manual mode and dial in the settings (keep your lens in AF). Now, step up the shutter speed by half or one stop (e.g. one stop up from 1/250 second is 1/500 second – just double it) and take another shot. Check the
Now, step up the shutter speed by half or one stop (e.g. one stop up from 1/250 second is 1/500 second – just double it) and take another shot. Check the histogram, repeat this step until there is no highlight clipping (i.e. the graph of the histogram doesn’t touch the vertical line on the right).
Next, set the shutter speed back to the initial value and step down using the same method (but in reverse) until there is no shadow clipping on the histogram (e.g. one stop down from 1/250 second is 1/125 second). Congratulations, you have just shot with your camera in manual mode!
Congratulations, you have just shot with your camera in manual mode!
5. Horizontal Panning For Panorama
There are times when your camera just couldn’t fit the entire composition you want into an image.
Fear not, create a panorama to fit all in 🙂 To shoot for a panorama, you need to use a technique called horizontal panning.
Stand still (don’t ever move while panning!) and hold your camera steadily by supporting the bottom of the camera with one hand while the other on the shutter release.
Use your body as the long axis, twist on your waist to the right (or the left first, either way) and take an image. This would be the scene on the far right of your panorama.
Next, twist slightly back to the left and take another image so that the second image overlaps the first image by at least ⅓. Repeat this step until you have captured the whole scene.
To keep focus and exposure consistent in all the images, focus in AF and shoot in aperture priority mode. Take note of the aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Now switch your camera to manual mode and dial in the settings.
Lastly, switch your lens to manual focus to keep the AF setting.
For the grand finale, stitch the images in software like Photoshop to create an awesome panorama!
6. Create Out of The World Perspective With Vertorama
Vertorama = vertical + panorama. Make sense now?
You can create awesome images with a jaw-dropping perspective, a little bit like using a fisheye lens.
Instead of panning horizontally, you now pan vertically, using the horizon as the axis. Vertorama works well in indoors and places with intricate details on the floor and the ceiling, e.g. in a church!
To begin with, tilt your camera to point at the ground to include the foreground objects. Then, tilt it a bit higher making sure there is at least ⅓ overlapping with the last image. Do this until you have included the ceiling.
Keep your focus and exposure consistent with the method mentioned above in panorama. Stitch the images in post-processing (e.g. Photoshop) to create mind-blowing vertorama!
7. Be Creative With Intentional Camera Movement (ICM)
Photography is a creative art. As photographers, we should embrace motion blur as much as we worship sharpness.
With ICM, you intentionally introduce motion blur in your image by moving your camera while the shutter is open.
Sounds weird, right?
The results are often unpredictable yet artistic. To take an image with ICM, move your camera as you press the trigger.
You can move it up and down, left and right, twist it clockwise and anti-clockwise. There is no rule to it!
Try this out: find a scene with plenty of vertical objects or structures (e.g. trees, buildings, etc), take an image the way you normally do. Except this time press the shutter release while moving your camera up and down repeatedly.
Looks cool? Now try moving it at a different speed!
8. Go Time Warp With A Zoom Lens
Have you ever seen Star Trek where the spacecraft was traveling at warp speed? Did you notice the light trails that made you subconsciously know it was moving at ultra-fast speed?
You can create a similar kind of effect with your camera and you don’t need any special equipment. The secret to this is a zoom lens!
There are three steps to this technique:
First, find a moving subject. Second, be either in front or back of the moving subject. This means the subject is either moving away or towards you.
Lastly, hold your camera still and take a shot while zooming in or out with your lens.
There are normally two rings on a zoom lens, one is for focusing and one is for zooming. Make sure you know which is which beforehand.
9. Use Panning To Capture Moving Subject
Want to capture the majestic image of a swan in flight? Or maybe a joyful candid of your son riding his bicycle?
If you just point and shoot, you’re going to have your subject blurred. This is because your subject is moving but your camera is still.
Panning is a technique where you move your camera along with your subject. This result in your subject being in focus with a blurred background. Pretty cool, right?
The key is to switch your camera’s focusing mode to auto continuous focusing. This means your camera will track the subject and auto adjust to keep it in focus as it moves. It’s also known as AI Servo for Canon or AF-C for Nikon (check your camera manual).
Hold your camera by supporting the bottom with one hand and the other on the side with the index finger on the shutter release. Compose your image, half-press on the shutter release to focus on your subject. You should hear a beep or a flash on the AF point telling you your subject is now in focus.
Continue to half-press the shutter release and don’t let go. As your subject moves, pan by moving in a steady and fluid motion with your subject, keeping it in the frame. Press in full on the shutter release when the moment is right!
10. Shoot Macro By Reversing Your Lens
If you haven’t heard of this technique before, you are in for a big treat!
Traditionally, you need a macro lens which can cost quite a bit. Investing in a macro lens is often not practical for photographers who shoot macro occasionally or just want to try it out.
Now all you need is a camera with a detachable lens. It works in both DSLR and mirrorless, prime or zoom lens.
Reverse mount your lens with the front of the lens to your camera’s body with a reversing ring, which normally costs just under $20. The only limitation is your reversed lens can only shoot at the widest aperture, which can have a shallow depth of field to keep your subject sharp throughout.
This happens with most modern lenses as there is no manual aperture ring. But if your lens does have a manual aperture ring, you can step it down to increase the depth of field as you get closer to your macro subject.
As with conventional macro photography, you do need a tripod and a flash or a reflective board to light up your tiny subject :))
11. Use Burst Mode To Capture The Perfect Moment
You can’t always predict when a moment is going to happen. Lucky for us, most modern cameras have burst mode so you can capture multiple images in seconds and choose the best one that you like.
Set your camera from single frame to continuous frame, check your camera’s manual if you are not sure how to do so.
When you think something awesome is going to happen, compose, focus and shoot. The only difference is you don’t let go of the shutter release button. You will hear the shutter curtains going off continuously like a machine gun (sometimes it is fun just to do that!).
After 15 to 20 continuous image (depending on your camera), your camera will slow down because of multiple image processing. Stop to let your camera to catch up and shoot again if needed.
12. Focus At The Hyperfocal Distance To Optimize Sharpness
While focus stacking may seem like the solution for front-to-back sharpness, there is another way.
Don’t be deceived by the big words, hyperfocal distance essentially means the focusing distance that gives your image the greatest depth-of-field, which in return maximize the area of sharpness in your image.
This technique works well if you do not have a subject very close to you in the foreground (if you do, focus stacking may work better).
How to find the focusing distance for hyperfocal focusing?
There is a reference chart! Use the focal length and the aperture you are shooting to determine the distance you need to focus. This chart is also available as a smartphone app.
The tricky part is to locate the distance that you are going to focus. You can estimate it or use the focusing scale on the lens (mainly on older lenses).
Once you have focused on the hyperfocal distance and taken the image, everything from half the distance of the hyperfocal length to infinity will be within the depth-of-field.
13. Use Custom Shaped Bokeh To Create Memorable Photos
Bokeh doesn’t always have to be round (or technically, near round). It can be any shape you like and this is how to do it.
Get a piece of card, cut out a shape in the middle of it. It can be any shape you want, be creative! Now trim the card to the size of your lens.
Here’s another idea:
Use a cleaned ice cream tub cover (e.g. Ben & Jerry’s) that can simply fit in front of your lens 🙂 You want to cut the shape just enough to fit within the largest aperture of your lens.
How to check the size?
Set the aperture to the widest and look right into your lens!
Now, place the card in front of your lens, hold it in place with your hand or with a tape and you are good to go. Typically, this works well when there are plenty of lights.
Take an image like you normally do and check it out. The bokeh have now taken the shape you cut out on the card!
You can use this technique to create beautiful images or awesome personalized greeting cards that your friends and family will cherish.
14. Get Bokehlicious By Unfocusing Your Lens
If you are into abstract and bokeh, then you have to try this technique. You can create images filled with soft and beautiful bokeh that you can even use it as a background for your desktop or smartphone.
Shooting for bokeh is dead easy, the technical part (not so difficult at all) is finding the right scene. I will explain.
To shoot bokeh, switch your lens to manual focus and use the widest aperture in aperture priority mode. Now, find a scene with lots (the more the better!) of lights. The bigger the light source, the bigger the bokeh is going to be.
Frame your image, manually turn the focusing ring until everything is blurred and take the shot. You can get different kinds of effect by experimenting with different lights and aperture.
15. Master The Art of Illusion With Forced Perspective
You must have seen photos of tourists trying to balance the Leaning Tower of Pisa with their hands :))
The truth is, they were just holding their hands up in the air with the Tower of Pisa far away in the background. It is an optical illusion that makes your brain thinks otherwise.
Forced perspective is an old camera trick that manipulates the human perception with optical illusion. For example, it makes objects appear larger or smaller, closer or farther than they actually are.
There are really no rules with forced perspective photography. A useful tip is to ask your subject to move closer or farther to alter the perceived size and distance. You can also move your position and tilt your camera to look up or down to change the perspective.
A useful tip is to ask your subject to move closer or farther to alter the perceived size and distance. You can also move your position and tilt your camera to look up or down to change the perspective.
Be creative, think outside the box! I promise you’ll come out with trick photography ideas of your own!
16. Level Up Portraits With Levitation Photography
Getting bored with your portrait routine? Spice it up with levitation, it could be your next big thing!
It is often used in creative self-portraits, although you can also work with models to create this effect. The concept is simple, you create an image of people that appears to be floating in the air :))
The easiest way to achieve this is to get the person to jump up from the ground, or jump down from a height while you snap an image when they are in mid-air (or use burst mode). This can be time-consuming and the possibilities are quite limited.
A better idea is to mount your camera on a tripod and take an image after getting your model (or you) into position by lying or sitting on a stool, a chair or something that supports the weight. Take another image, but this time without the model.
Now open up both images in Photoshop with the second image on top of the first one. Apply a black layer mask on the second layer and use a white paint brush to mask out the stool. Without it, your model looks like he is floating in mid-air.
17. Leverage The Golden Hour To Create Cool Silhouette
Silhouettes are among the coolest and easiest image you can take. There is something magical about the combination of a vibrant sky and the outline of the subject in shadow.
It’s the perfect image at the end of a day. The best time to get a nice silhouette image is during sunrise or sunset when the sky is colorful.
The key to capture a nice, strong silhouette is to get the light metering right.
Set the light metering mode to spot metering (check your camera’s manual if you’re unsure). Your camera now calculates the exposure based on the light intensity in the circle at the center of the frame.
This is in contrast with matrix metering (most of us set this as default) where your camera calculates the shutter speed based on the average exposure of the frame.
Now, point the circle at the sky and lock the exposure. All you need to do now is recompose your image and press the shutter release.
18. Revive Retro Effect With A Pinhole Camera
I mean a homemade pinhole camera. You need a camera body cap (costs a few dollars on eBay) and a few things you can easily get from a tool box.
Your mission is to make a hole in the middle of the body cap.
First, use a ruler to measure and locate the center of the cap. This step is extremely important as you’re essentially creating the aperture, which MUST be in the middle.
Then, drill a hole through the center, the size is not important at this stage. You just need a hole.
Now comes the crucial part: cut out a small piece of tinfoil (about 1cm x 3cm) and use a needle to prick a hole in the middle. The smaller the needle, the smaller the aperture.
Position the tinfoil so that the pinhole is in the middle of the hole on the body cap and tape it down with gaffer tape.
Before you attach the cap to your camera, check the inside of the cap to see if it’s shiny. Light reflects on shiny surfaces which will affect the exposure. If it is, cover all up with gaffer tape.
Now you’re ready for some action!
You’ll have to shoot in manual mode. You’ll have to experiment with the ISO and shutter speed to find a setting that gives you the best result. It’s a bit of trial and error really.
Credit to Salvatore Cincotta from Behind The Shutter for the awesome tutorial.
19. Go Abstract With Kinetic Photography
Are you running out of creative ideas? Why not set yourself free by tossing your camera in the air?
You read it right, TOSS your camera in the air!
Kinetic photography may sound risky for you and your camera. It’s certainly not fun getting hit by a DSLR weight almost 1kg in the face, or worse, dropped on the ground!
It’s definitely not for the fainthearted 🙂
What you do is to set your camera on a longer exposure, toss it in the air and let the motion do the work for you.
To try out this technique, start with a small and lightweight lens such as a 50mm lens or a compact camera. Do it in a low light setting, use any artificial light around you to your advantage.
Whatever you do, make sure safety comes first.
You can focus the scene in aperture priority mode first, note the settings and dial it in manual mode.
Because you’re tossing your camera up in the air, you want the shutter speed to be long enough for it to take off and land back in your hands. Experiment with the exposure to get the results that you like.
20. Emulate Motion Blur With Time Lapse
Want to smoothen the water/clouds or remove people from your image?
You would normally need an ND filter to create the long exposure effect. But what if you don’t have one (an ND filter can be quite pricey)?
Use time-lapse technique! Essentially, you take multiple images of the same frame at short intervals and stack them together in Photoshop to emulate the long exposure effect.
Essentially, you take multiple images of the same frame at short intervals and stack them together in Photoshop.
First, find a suitable scene where the elements you want to smoothen are moving. Clouds, water, people, cars, you name it.
Next, mount your camera on a tripod and set your camera to continuous shooting in aperture priority mode.
Start taking multiple images with the moving element in it. The key to time lapse photography is the interval between each image.
It can be as short as one second in a fast moving element like water or clouds on a windy day. You may need to extend to three or four seconds if you want to remove people.
You should take at least 20 images or more to achieve a smooth motion blur effect.
Once you’re done, upload the images to your computer. Open up Photoshop, go to File > Scripts > Statistics. Browse and select all the images, change the “Stack Mode” to Median and check the box for “Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images”.
Hit OK and watch the magic happens!
21. Absolute Front-To-Back Sharpness With Focus Stacking
A common challenge in images with depth (commonly in landscape images) is the impossibility to get good sharpness throughout.
This is more obvious if you focus on an object in the near foreground. The background will always be slightly out of focus even if you use the smallest aperture.
A genius way to tackle this is to manually focus each distance of the scene separately and blend them together in post-processing (hence the name focus stacking).
A tripod (or something to immobilize your camera) is required to keep the frames consistent.
Starting with the foreground, turn the focusing ring on your lens until the foreground elements become sharp, take a shot. I recommend zoom in on your LCD screen while focusing because it’s easier to ensure the focus is sharp.
Review the image on the LCD screen by zooming in the foreground.
Gradually move upwards (into the distance) until you notice the image starts to lose focus. Take a note where this is in your image composition, refocus on this part with your lens and take another shot.
Repeat this step until you finish with the image.
Blend the images in post-processing. Boom! Sharpness throughout!
Share These Photography Tips and Tricks
Now that you are fuelled with ideas and adrenaline, it’s time to try one of these yourself. Pick ONE and spend 10 to 15 minutes on it. I promise the result will be rewarding!
For more tutorials on image editing technique, please check out the editing technique resource page!