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10 cool DIY photography techniques that anyone can do

Photography has always been home to a thriving DIY culture. We’re regularly impressed by the results that photographers achieve with their ingenuity and just a few simple tools or materials.

So to inspire you, we asked ten creative professionals, including photographers and filmmakers, to tell us about some of their favourite DIY techniques, effects, hacks, and tools. Read on for some of their best ideas.

1. Use a plastic sheet to create a dreamy glow

Kayleigh June created this glowy ’70s aesthetic by doing two things: first, she put a sheet of plastic in front of her lens, and second, she dragged her shutter. “My main behind-the-scenes tip would be to try your best to find a sheet of plastic that is quite clear, as if it’s too clouded, dirty, or scratched, it can be very difficult to get a clear image overall,” she tells us. “Hold the plastic around 15-20 centimetres away from your lens, between the lens and subject, and move the plastic around and change the angle to create different effects.

Photo by Kayleigh June (@kayleigh_june on Instagram). Model: Elise (@Kult Models on Instagram). Hair & Makeup: Melinda Wenig (@melindawmakeup on Instagram)

“To get that slight motion blur effect, you will need to ‘drag the shutter’ on your camera. Set your shutter speed to a slow number, around 1/6 sec or slower. Slightly move the camera as you take the photos, so you are effectively ‘dragging the light.’ Finally, having the subject wearing something metallic or sparkly can really help to pick up those beams/strings of light.” You can see her tutorial on YouTube.

If you would like to learn more from Kayleigh June, check out her article 7 tips for natural-looking beauty retouching here on Spotlight.

2. Make a rainbow light-painting tube

Eric Paré and Kim Henry, known for their pioneering work in light-painting, created this DIY rainbow tube technique. You’ll need a T8 plastic tube (you can get these at your local hardware store), a roll of adhesive holographic vinyl and clear tube protector (both available through Eric and Kim’s store), tape, scissors, and a flashlight. To make the tube, stick the vinyl onto the protector and insert it into the tube, fastening the ends with tape. The flashlight goes into the tube, and you’re all set to start painting. You can see Eric and Kim’s step-by-step tutorial here, or you can buy one of their readymade tubes through their store.

© Eric Paré (@ericparephoto on Instagram), featuring Kim Henry

3. Create slit lighting… with a cardboard box

No need for an expensive gobo: a flashgun, a regular cardboard box, and a boxcutter were all the UK-based photographer and videographer Tom Calton needed to produce this split lighting effect. He recommends pairing it with high-contrast black and white for a moody, low-key look or even experimenting with colour gels to suit your taste. Watch his process step-by-step on YouTube.

© Tom Calton (@tom.calton on Instagram). Model: Mia Lincoln (@mialincolnxx on Instagram)

4. Capture rainbow ripples

“At home, self-portrait photo ideas are always fun to do during these times,” the Australian photographer Joshua Griffen tells us. “Every afternoon, I would see how stunning the natural sunlight would look creating rainbow ripples in the water of my pool–but only in the afternoon around 5:00 PM when the sun was at an angle and more orange.

“To get the shot, I would set up a tripod and change the camera mode to timelapse mode, where it would keep taking photos every few seconds. I love backlit photos, as the lighting always looks dreamy; however, you will need a reflector or a mirror (this is what I used) to reflect the light and rainbow ripples onto your face. To add a little bit more flair, I used my four-point star filter.” You can see his process on Instagram.

Image © Joshua Griffen (@joshua_griffen on Instagram)

5. Experiment with prisms

Filmmaker Chris, who regularly shares BTS tips and tricks, used Fractal Filters to create a mesmerizing kaleidoscopic effect on a recent video shoot. “Try out all directions–by using them upside down or at a 45-degree angle, for example, you can get really amazing results,” he suggests. “Also, the focal length of your lens matters. For example, a 35mm or 85mm will generate a totally different look and effect when using the prism filters.” You can see the final effect over on his Instagram.

Image © Filmmaker Chris (@filmmkrchris on Instagram)

6. Make a magazine collage background

This technique comes to us from the producer, artist, and creative director CASS, who’s experimented with all sorts of fun photoshoot backdrops. This one she made using pages of magazine issues she had on hand, taped to her wall to create a seamless effect. “When selecting magazine pages, look for full-page spreads to have a more cohesive look,” she suggests. “Remember to tape down the magazine pages that extend to the floor so that they do not move during the shoot, and avoid wearing too many colours so you won’t clash with all the colours in the background of your photos.” You can watch her behind-the-scenes process on YouTube.

Image © CASS (@workthatcass on Instagram)

7. Try a DIY diffusion filter

Andrik Langfield created his own diffusion filter to mimic the glowy, hazy effect of professional filters using a regular UV filter and some hairspray. In his garage, he spritzed the hairspray into the air and then ran the UV filter right through the mist. “Spray in the air and catch the particles with the filter rather than spraying directly onto the filter, and spray in the inside of the filter, so it doesn’t smudge off when it’s on your camera,” he recommends. “Don’t be afraid to try it since the hairspray washes off easily.” You can follow along with Andrik’s process over on YouTube.

Engagement shoot in Hamilton Ontario by the Cotton Factory by Andrik Langfield (@andriklangfield on Instagram)

8. Build your own soft-focus lens

Randy Snook was inspired to develop this DIY lens, which he’s nicknamed “The Pipe Dream,” to mimic the soft-focus, dreamy effect favoured by the early Pictorialists, such as Gertrude Käsebier or Alfred Stieglitz. To make your own, you’ll need a PVC joint union (you can get this from most home improvement stores), a positive meniscus lens (Randy got his at Surplus Shed), a 55mm reverse adapter ring, and some spray paint and glue.

From there, it will help to follow along with Randy’s assembly process step-by-step via his YouTube channel. (Keep in mind that Randy shot the image above with the pipe dream lens but not with a Canon camera, as in the video. Instead, he used a Panasonic 4/3 sensor camera. “It’s the same basic construction, just adapted for a different camera,” he tells us.

© Randy Snook (@randysnookphotographer on Facebook)

9. Combine a small bulb with a regular light socket

“Often, my team and I have to add lights in a photograph, which ultimately get hidden somehow behind an object or drapery, depending on the set,” the fine art photographer Patty Carroll explains. “Since all of the sets are lit with studio strobe lights, we use these wonderful, small bulbs that fit into a regular lamp socket and give just enough boost to a shadow area.

“They are called Morris Slave Flash, and they are affordable. We made a picture recently and used the Morris bulb on the right side behind the curtain to highlight the stacked cards on the table (above). Also, for all strobes or other lights that need to be softened, you can use shower curtain liners, which turn into a nice soft box if you need one!”

Card Play © Patty Carroll (@pattyphotosnaps on Instagram)

10. Make rainbows with a CD

We got this idea from the travel and fashion guru Laureen Uy, who used a CD, her phone camera and flash, and a blank wall at home to create this rainbow self-portrait. “Have patience,” she advises. “There’s only a very slight chance you’ll get the perfect shot during your first try, so focus on finding the perfect angle and keep trying until you nail that shot. Also, look around your place and search for things you can use for fun shoots at home. I only realised I can use drinking glasses, graters, CDs, and so on when I actually tried using them. Sometimes the nicest props are the ones right in front of you.” You can see how she experimented with the CD and phone flash over on her vlog.

Image © Laureen Uy (@laureen on Instagram)

About the contributor

Feature Shoot showcases the work of international emerging and established photographers who are transforming the medium through compelling, cutting-edge projects, with contributing writers from all over the world.

Spotlight editor

As editor of Affinity Spotlight Melanie oversees the stories, interviews and tutorials published on the site. Outside of work she enjoys travelling, reading crime thrillers, Pilates and dabbling in a spot of oil painting. Get in touch with Melanie if you would like to contribute or be featured on Affinity Spotlight.