8 Useful Digital Camera Hacks That Don’t Cost The Earth

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camera repair intro   8 Useful Digital Camera Hacks That Dont Cost The EarthYou can actually get more out of a photograph with a cheap homemade reflector than an expensive lens when you are on the learning curve with your camera. The good thing is that the photography community is a friendly bunch. There are some great photographers shooting out advice in some amazing photography blogs.

The prime amateur photography lesson is that it’s just about composition and light. But the second most important lesson was taught to me by a professional photographer whom I hesitantly asked about the best kinds of photography accessories. He told me to just shoot more and learn till I find that I can’t absolutely do without that extra accessory. It’s all about squeezing the most out of what you have till you can’t squeeze anymore.

And when you hit the wall, you can squeeze some more by hacking day-to-day objects into nifty camera accessories. Yes, they might not do anything for your style, but they won’t hit your bank account either. So, here’s a roundup of some useful digital camera hacks that don’t cost the Earth and the moon.

Reduce Camera Shake with a Bean Bag

You Need:

  • A bag of lentils.
  • Discarded pair of jeans.

camera hack01   8 Useful Digital Camera Hacks That Dont Cost The Earth

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If you are coming from a point-and-shoot to a DSLR that weighs 2+ pound (and that’s without a heavy telephoto lens), the first thing you have to learn is to stabilize your camera. High-end cameras have stabilization build in, but you still have to be rock still if you don’t want your photos to end up with the shakes. This DIY photography hack on Digitalcameraworld.com shows you how to reduce camera shake while supporting your camera with a homemade “beanbag”. Instead of buying one, you can make your own rough n’ tough beanbag with a discarded pair of jeans and fill it up with a bag of lentils. Some sewing skills will be required. But you can have someone like your wife do it for you.

In the meantime, you can save the $30 that takes to buy a camera bean bag.

A Camera Image Stabilizer You Can Carry In Your Pocket

You Need:

  • A short 1/4 inch diameter bolt.
  • A piece of string slightly longer than your height.
  • A large washer or other small weight.

This $1 camera image stabilizer tutorial on Instructables.com shows how you can make a carry along camera stabilizer with the materials mentioned and give yourself some extra stops of exposure. It is a very simple how-to and should take you just about ten minutes to put together. The idea is to attach one end of the string to a short screw which goes into the tripod mount under the camera, and the other end to a small weight held by your feet. The string is kept taut by the opposing tension created by the camera and the weight planted under your feet. The hacker says that this is a good technique to keep the camera stable and it works well for medium exposure shots. It removes vertical shake and you can also freely pan the camera horizontally. For long exposure shots, you will need an actual tripod. But the best thing is its ultra-portability.

Diffuse Flash with an Empty Milk Carton

You Need:

  • An empty plastic milk carton.
  • A pair of scissors.

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Direct flash can cast harsh shadows, hot spots or reflections. Flash blowout is a common problem in photography because internal flash units may not calibrate the right intensity of the light. So you may have to diffuse the flash instead of letting it fall directly on the subject. Creating some distance between the camera and the subject is the one way to do it though it doesn’t work in all situations. The second cheapest way (and there are many) could be to use an empty plastic milk carton.

Make your flash spread out by using the semi-opaque plastic on a milk carton. This Digitalcameraworld.com tutorial shows you how to cut around the handle and make a neat fitting flash diffuser. The curvature of the handle fits snugly over the camera flash and is small enough to fit in your pocket. You can in fact experiment with a variety of materials to create your flash diffuser – from toilet paper to white foam sheets. Use white semi-opaque materials because the color of the materials affects the color temperature of the light that passes through the diffuser.

A branded plastic diffuser is not very expensive ($5) but why waste even that.

The Flash Bouncer with a Business Card

You Need:

  • A white business card.
  • A pair of scissors.

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Bouncing flash off a surface is another way of diffusing light and preventing harsh, unnatural light to fall on the subject. Bouncing light also prevents hot spots and red eyes along with shadows when you are shooting indoors. You can use ceilings and walls to bounce the flash. But that’s possible only if you have an external flash. But worry not because here’s an almost free solution to bounce light off the ceiling with your own bounce card and the in-built flash.

The Party Bouncer card takes 15 seconds to fashion. Take a white business card made of cardboard and snip two cuts on the other end of the card and attach it to the metallic hinges of the integrated flash, preferably at an angle of 45 degrees. The Diyphotography.net tutorial shows it to you in pictures.

A professional grade bounce card (e.g. Rogue FlashBenders ROGUEFLAG Bounce Card) can cost as much as $30.

DIY Photography Backdrops

You Need:

  • Cotton Duck fabric.
  • Dowel rod.
  • Cup hooks (2).

camera hack05   8 Useful Digital Camera Hacks That Dont Cost The Earth

Instructables.com’s tutorial on how to create a cheap backdrop for your DIY photo studio should take you under ten minutes to set up if you are handy with a drill. You can buy cotton duck fabrics in any color starting with the standard black or white. This is one of the easiest tutorials I could find that allows you to make a full-length backdrop for your subjects. You can experiment with other cheap materials like colored paper, muslin cloth, velour, velvet, or even a non-creased table cloth. Ideal qualities are that it should be wrinkle and reflection free. Also, once you learn how to control depth of field, you can lessen the comparative importance of the background material.

Low-cost backdrop support systems (like the CowboyStudio Photography 6x9ft Black Muslin Backdrop with One Section Cross Bar) can cost upwards of $50.

Rain Guard for Your Lens with a CD Case

You Need:

  • A blank CD case.
  • Polythene.
  • Gaffer tape.

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Whether you like it or not, you will be hit by the weather; pun intended. You camera might say it has an all-weather body, but it takes a brave man to risk it. Digitalcameraworld.com takes you through the construction. You have to cut two blank CD case covers and attach them with Gaffer tape so that they extend out and protect your lens from the drops. It is a simple photography hack, and all you have to do is precisely measure out the diameters as instructed.

Camera rain guards with lens protection can cost around $25.

Bokeh Effects Filter

You Need:

  • Sheets of black construction paper or posterboard.
  • Scissors
  • Electrical Tape
  • Velcro

camera hack09   8 Useful Digital Camera Hacks That Dont Cost The Earth

Bokeh are artistic photo effects which appear as out-of-focus points of light. You can create them naturally with your camera settings and placement of your subject. Or you can use bokeh filters. The best thing about creating your own bokeh filters is that you can give them creative shapes in various sizes. Try Chris Perez’s cheap and easy DIY tutorial on creating bokeh effects with black construction paper.

Creative bokeh kits cost around $20 or more.

Remote Shutter Trigger

 You Need:

  • 2.5 mm Hands free phone headset.

camera hack10   8 Useful Digital Camera Hacks That Dont Cost The Earth

Well, with the number of cell phones we change, you should have a spare handsfree phone headset lying around somewhere. Making one from a headset is easy if you have 10 minutes to spare. This Instructables.com photography tutorial shows you just how. You can do away with the ear piece by snipping away the wire leading to the ear piece as explained in the tutorial. The camera shutter stays open as long till the button in the handsfree is depressed.

Remote shutter triggers actually are very cheap. You can buy one for under $10. But it’s still fun to make one in the spirit of DIY.

Be Creative…Be a Photography MacGyver

We have our own wishlists…a desire list of the coolest accessories every photographer wants. But after splurging $2000 on the latest camera, we could also calm our wallets by turning to some digital photography accessories we can make ourselves. It doesn’t hurt to try.

If you are starting out with digital photography, browse through The Essential Guide To Digital Photography. It is free. Just like the helpful DIY photography tutorials written by experts in the field. If they can attach a piece of cardboard or plastic to their cameras, so can you. Tell us about the favorite digital camera hacks you have come across. Your tips in the comment thread could turn us all into MacGyver’s and save us a bundle.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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42 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

Manish Parmar

awsm details..thanks a lot

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null

nice compilation of photography hacks!

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drewcrosby

I made my own remote shutter control for my Rebel XT a few years back. I was able to get almost all the parts at Radio Shack (but ymmv). It requires a plastic project box, a pair of momentary-on push buttons, a toggle switch, a 2.5mm TRS connector (mini headphone jack), and some thin 3-conductor wire. Total cost was somewhere around 15 bucks, it was a great DIY project, and the end result works like a boss. I’ve used it dozens of times for long-exposure night photography. Not having to physically touch the camera + mirror lockup setting = rock solid photos.

Saikat Basu

Great. It seems to be similar with the headphone jack being common to such projects.

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Nikki

I liked the camera hacks, but I’m wondering why this writer assumes photographers are male, or that women know and like to sew?

“Some sewing skills will be required. But you can have someone like your wife do it for you.”

?_?

bret

Right? I thought I was in a time warp back to the 50’s.

Saikat Basu

No offense. It’s probably because I had my wife do it for me as I suck at stitching and sewing :) And it was meant in a light-hearted vein. Don’t read too much into it.

B3rt

Offense taken. It’s 2013, not 1953.

PJF

Take your “offense” elsewhere you over sensitive crybaby.

B3rt

Thank you for contributing to the debate with your well-reasoned comment.

Now, if you’re a man then shouldn’t you be out at work doing manly things like being a breadwinner and if you’re one of the little ladies then perhaps you should get back in the kitchen and cook my dinner.

Seriously, if you’re happy with the promotion of gender stereotypes then good luck to you. I’d rather stand up and challenge this sort of nonsense.

Reply

gra_gra

This is brilliant. Now I am cursing having just bought a remote shutter cable but I will use the rest of the tips particularly those with the flash

Saikat Basu

Everyone seems to be gravitating to the remote shutter release hack :)

Reply

John

Ah! real light blending with bits of card and plastic, much more fun than ‘shopping it later. But look closely …
Did you see how he photo-shopped those pieces of CD case onto that expensive lens? And that milk carton looks like a fake as well ….
Good job I have an eagle eye for these things. Many people wouldn’t have spotted that !

Saikat Basu

Really? Didn’t catch that. But the method does work as a DIY.

Reply

Bruce Thomas

Thank you for all the great ideas. I use the $1 image stabilizer since it is easy to carry. I will try some of the others. Good photography ideas don’t need to cost a lot of money.

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Patti

What great photography tips. Thanks so much for sharing them!

Reply

Paul van den Bergen

I can’t believe you missed the best most obvious free improvement to your camera – if it’s a Canon, install Magic Lantern!

http://magiclantern.wikia.com/wiki/Magic_Lantern_Firmware_Wiki

Saikat Basu

Thanks for the link. I deliberately did not go for firmware hacks here.

Reply

sonwabile

never thoght i’d be better than this, thanks 4 the info it was helpful

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WantedManiac

This should help in lots of things. Thanks . . .

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Diana Heyne

The ideas here are great but the sexist language is not. ”Some sewing skills will be required. But you can have someone like your wife do it for you.” Assuming of course that all women sew and men are the ones out taking the photos. If this was by any chance intended humourously it isn’t evident. Maybe the writer could instead have suggested a good basic sewing tutorial for those not in the know–be they male or female–or just said that if you are unfamiliar with basic stitching, help should be close at hand. (P.S. The word “but” should not be properly used to start a sentence)
What about “Your camera might say it has an all-weather body, but it takes a brave man to risk it”. This is 1950s style “manly-man” language–why not simply substitute the word “owner” or other non-gender specific noun for “man” ?
Your good advice will go a lot farther if you don’t turn off half your audience. I still appreciate and will use the info here but please give it a bit of thought before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be.

Saikat Basu

It is really strange Diane that you are making assumptions without knowing me and what my thought process was. I did not even think of attaching gender specific roles here. It was something from my own experience…as I do not how to sew and my wife helps me out. It could have been my own brother or any Tom, Dick, or Jane. AND it was meant in a lighter vein without disparaging the gender. It is presumptuous to judge someone without knowing their thought process. I am a simple tech writer who holds every human irrespective of gender in the highest regard. I am glad that you at least find the knowledge useful.

Nikki

Defending your word choice as essentially thoughtless doesn’t make it any less off base. Instead of pushing some kind of agenda of misinterpretation onto your readers, why not listen to what they’re telling you? Careful consideration of jokes and audience gendering IS important. Your responses are making this gaffe worse.

Diana Heyne

Dear Saikut Basu: I am sorry if you took my comments as a personal attack. It was not intended as such. However I don’t think I’m being presumptuous in my reaction. When you put yourself before an audience as a writer your words are all they have to go on and I am trying to respond as a thoughtful reader to what I see as a poor choice in writing rather than a personal judgement about you. Go back and read what I wrote and you should see that at no point did I make any remarks about you personally. Truthfully I hoped to point out what I thought were some thoughtless choices, not condemn a fellow human being. I do stand by what I said in my original comment.
Please note I am writing from the point of view of someone who has been a professional writer for daily newspapers and magazines and also has professional photography experience both in studio and lab. At times as a writer and artist I have to separate the person that is me from these very personal activities that I put out into the world. It is not always easy to take criticism but I have learned that constructive criticism of my work is not an attack on who I am or my right to exist as a person.

dragonmouth

“I am sorry if you took my comments as a personal attack. It was not intended as such………….Truthfully I hoped to point out what I thought were some thoughtless choices, not condemn a fellow human being.”
HORSE PUCKEY! You knew exactly what you were doing.

BTW – you should have checked your facts before penning your screed. Females outnumber males in the human race. So, by saying “if you don’t turn off half your audience”, you are shortchanging the gender you are trying so hard to stand up for.

B3rt

I’m with Diane on this one. At best it was poorly worded but it smacks of sexism.

I’m astonished nobody picked this up in editing prior to publication.

Diana Heyne

I am well aware that females outnumber males overall but I was speaking in a very general and informal way about the audience for this article –and I would hope to include some more open minded males among that number as well.
Why all the anger? I would object just as much to sexist wording involving male stereotyping.
At no point did I call the writer a sexist–but I did point out that the ideas and wording were such. All of my remarks have been addressed to the choice of words, not the person behind them. i don’t know the writer personally and have no personal vendetta against him. As I mentioned the rest of the article was interesting and useful.
This has all devolved into something unpleasant. Here in France people can agree to disagree and it doesn’t become a personal argument if we have differences of socio-political ideology.

Jessica C

I agree with Diana. As writers we all need to remind ourselves that whether we think about them or not, our words impact people. In fact, as writers one could say that words impact people more than anything else we do. Therefore we should try to be cognizant of everything we’re saying, and recognize this means taking extra care with thoughts and ideas that have a long history and association with oppression – even if one ‘meant it in a lighthearted way’. Either you’re working towards a more inclusive and welcoming society, or you’re inadvertently standing in the way of it just by being careless. I, and I think Diana, and other commenters, invite you to work with us in the future to help us. Women and men everywhere will thank you for being a more conscientious writer.

Since we are on an educated blog here, if you as a man find sewing a challenge, rather than getting a woman to do it for you, perhaps consider learning the skill (important to many DIY and hacking endeavours) and teaching it to other men. You could make an article of it. And try to be a bit more inclusive with women on photography, as well.

Reply

Taha Ben Ali

nice camera …

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Brandon Lockaby

Awesome tips!

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Stephanie Staker

Thank you so much for these tips. My hubby is a “McGyver” and will love it as well. He kept our microwave working for another 3 years just be using a small piece of aluminum foil in place of the fuse. It was a little more complicated than that but he amazes me with the common-sense ideas he has.

Reply

Tina

Thought you might find this interesting

Reply

Bobo the n00b

No no no.
THIS SUCKS
Its so lame I want to throw up

Reply

dragonmouth

Maybe some non-food item rather than lentils could be used in the “bean bag”? I like lentils as food and would hate to see them “wasted” in a bean bag.

In the spirit of some of the above posts, I should rebuke you for suggesting a trivial use for a food item (lentils) while there is hunger in the world. Naah, I’m not that anal. /grin/

Reply

tekinsol

great tutorial for someone like me who is passionate about digital photography. thanks…

Reply

dragonmouth

To the those that see sexism and discrimination in every sentence and word I have just one comment – Political correctness is intellectual dishonesty.

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Onaje Asheber

Good things to Do! Thanks a lots…

Reply

Ashwin Singh

aweasom tricks

Reply

FairozeH

great idea!

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IamRobin

hi saikat,
thanks for telling clearly about camera hacks, hope these hacks will help me.

Reply

supertofana

Thanks for the lesson: how to become McGyver! ;)

Reply

Onaje A

Good info to use…

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