Want to dramatically improve pictures of yourself, deliver more unique photographs to clients or up your Instagram game for cheap? Yes, you can spend thousands of dollars to buy gear that will give you amazing depth of field and high resolution but why not get creative with it with some DIY hacks? Let me walk you through 10 photography tricks I’ve picked up through the years that you can do at home as a beginner or a pro.


1. Create Your Own Lightbox

A lightbox is used in close-up photography of an object with good, diffused light and a uniform background, but these boxes can be pricey in photography stores. You can get similar results by taping a sheet of plain paper to a window on a sunny day and placing your subject in front of it. If you can, switch your camera to Av mode (aperture to f/8, set the ISO to 100) and go to the Exposure Compensation and dial in +1 or +2 to brighten the picture.

Or you can make a frame by cutting windows into the sides and top of a cardboard box, cover each opening with white fabric or tissue paper, fit a gently bent portion of white poster board inside the box to create a blank background. You can then use flashes, desk lamps, and other light sources to create the desired lighting effect.


DIY Lightbox


2. Make Your Photos Hazy With A Sandwich Bag

You can create an interesting mood to your pictures by creating a makeshift pale, blurry vignette around your subject. Please take away (or eat) your snack, your camera needs the bag more than ever. Attach the sandwich bag to your lens as shown below and make sure parts of it are obstructing the lens view. Fire away to get your hazy photos and don’t be afraid to take colourful markers to the sandwich bag! You can also use loose gauze fabric or vaseline around the edges of your lens filter.


Sandwich bag hack


3. Create Shadow Effects With A Tea Strainer

This is perfect if you want to use natural light through a window or small opening. Make sure the light is strong enough and the subject is close to the strainer. If you arrange it so, you can get strong shadows which cast beautiful patterns that highlight depth. I couldn’t find any commercial product so unique! Don’t be afraid to use blinds to cast shadows too.




4. Make A DIY Flash Diffuser

Similar to the purpose of a lightbox, softening the harsh light from a camera flash can create much softer, flattering portraits by flushing out harsh shadows and fixing bright overexposed spots. Personally I avoid using my flash in most scenarios and use ambient (natural) lighting but sometimes it’s just too dark. You can use a white plastic grocery bag, a white sheet of paper or thick white plastic directly covering your flash so the light is broken up and bouncing in various directions.


DIY Flash Diffuser


5. Improvise Beautiful, Fake Backdrop Using a Laptop

If you’re running out of time, this hack will help you out for sure. All you need to do is put up a bokeh (blurry lights) background on your computer screen and put an object of your choice in front of it.


Laptop screen bokeh backdrop


6. Create DIY Lens flares

This could be the easiest photography hack in this list. You’ll need a CD (of your favorite singer, of course) and a DSLR camera. Make sure you remove the lens hood before attempting this hack since lens hoods are specially designed to prevent lens flare. Try flashing the CD in different angles so that some of the reflected light from CD gets into the lens. You can look through the view finder and shoot when you see flares intensify for different angles/placements of the CD.


DIY Lens Flare


7. Use fake flowers as props with models

By all means, shoot with real flowers if you have some readily available to you, but most of the time, nobody can tell the difference between real flowers and fake ones in a photograph from far away, so head over to Michael’s, Walmart or even Dollarama and get yourself some plants matching the colour palette in your subject. The flowers give female models something to do with their hands, adds a feminine, delicate touch and you can reuse them later unlike real ones. I personally have a global assortment of fake roses, hydrangeas, lilies, magnolias and hibiscus in my repertoire for a variety of hues.


Fake Flowers with girls


8. Create matchstick film burn

Similar to the diy lens flare and sandwich bags, who needs Photoshop filters when you could hold up a flame from a match/lighter near your lens to create beautiful film burn effects. As long as the flame is completely out of focus, this hack should work and make you look like a skilled photographer.


Matchstick Film Burn


9. Get in close to your subject

Zoom in on what’s important in a portrait and make it the focal point. Most people think that they have to step way back and get a lot of space around the subject to get the whole scene. Your subject is not a mime that is stuck in an invisible box, it’s okay to cut off their foreheads, legs, or lower half every now and then! Try getting an artistic close-up of someone’s face or certain parts of their face like eyes or lips.


Beauty portrait of close-up face


10. Use the rule of thirds (the tic-tac-toe rule)

The rule of thirds is a common, basic guideline applied to the process of composing photographs, based on the concept of keeping the important compositional elements along the lines of an imaginary tic-tac-toe grid. In fact, many cameras have these grid lines built into the viewfinder. Aligning a subject with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the composition than simply centering the subject. This grid can also help you straighten your vertical and horizontal lines so take the extra second.


Rule of Thirds Grid Overlay on image of beach


11. Look for repeating patterns

If you enjoy architectural photography, take notice of buildings, windows and patterns in brickwork as you walk around. I was walking downtown by a building I walk by all the time to work and something suddenly ‘clicked’ and I realized there was a really interesting pattern in the brickwork I had never noticed before. I made a reminder in my phone to bring my camera to work the next day before I forgot.


Geometric Pattern in Architecture