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Photography on the Cheap

November 9, 2010

I’ve been asked to provide topic ideas to a potential series of “web seminars” that may happen in the new year. These would be targeted at knowledge workers who have to enter content, but aren’t professional programmers. Everyone puts “HTML” on their resume (even me), but there are limits beyond which a journalist, writer, photographer, or artist should not have to go to add content to any website. It’s simply not where their value to the organization lies. They are there to report, write, create, design and interact with their audience. Anything we can do to get the technical bits out of their way is a plus.

I’ve been thinking about doing a quick, simple slideshow on image optimization. The trouble is, there isn’t much to say. Almost all of the basics can be taken care of in less than half an hour.

So, I’ve been toying with the idea of adding a “photography on the cheap” section to the end. Since the audience would be pro photographers, there’s no point on covering shooting techniques, how to use the camera, etc. They know all that stuff already. Honestly, I’d be asking them for shooting tips.

Instead, I chose to go with alternative processes. Things they can put in their kit bag for next to no cost and take up little space, but could dramatically alter their shots. Likewise, no Photoshop tutorials. If it’s not a physical object, forget it.

Until things are decided, I’ve started to gather material anyway. If it never gets used, it’s still good for a blog post.

This is written point-form, as it would eventually make its way either into a presentation, or into my kit-bag via It will probably be re-written several times, adding new things, and expanding explanations as I go.



Remove your lens from your camera. Hold the lens in front, tilting it. Take the shot. You can also reverse the lens (hold the front of the lens pointing towards the camera) to do macro shots.

Fisheye on the cheap

You can use a Lomography Fisheye/Fisheye 2, or buy a door peephole and hold it in front of the lens.


You can create a pinhole lens by using a sewing needle, sandpaper, duct tape, coke can, and body cap. Cut out and flatten a piece of the can, larger than a quarter. Pierce it with the needle, making the smallest hole you can. Sand down the hole with wet/dry sandpaper, making it as perfectly round as possible. Drill a hole the size of a quarter in the body cap. Tape the pinhole to the body cap, over the hole. Use with any film or digital camera that the body cap fits.

Lensbaby…or toilet plunger

Tilt-shift lenses are like freelensing, but with more control. Lensbaby offers a complete system, but you can build one from scratch by using a toilet plunger and a regular lens.

Improvised lenses

Magnifying glasses, eyeglasses, prisms, and the like can be taped in front of the lens for various effects.


Go anamorphic

These are almost entirely hand-made, but Pinhole Blender sells some ready-made. Anamorphic effects can absolutely brilliant.

Camera? What camera?

Cyanotypes and other alternative processes can create images without the need for a camera at all. These types of effects can create striking images, or backgrounds and patterns that can be combined with traditional camera shots. All you need is paper treated with the right chemicals, a light-tight container to keep the exposed/unexposed papers in, and a darkroom.

Filter Effects

Star filters

You can buy star filters, but you can also make them out of window screens and other mesh-like materials. Cut to fit your UV filter, or sandwich in between 2 filters. Stopping down to small apertures will also help create star filter effects.

The original soft filter: pantyhose

It’s true. During the silent film era, pantyhose was placed taut over the lens with an elastic band. Different colours produce different effects. You can also use a transparent moisturizing cream, but apply it to a UV filter, not the lens.

Changing the shape of bokeh

Cut a piece of black cardboard so that it will fit in between 2 UV filters that match your lens. In the middle, cut out the shape desired. Place cardboard in between the 2 filters and shoot wide-open.

Low-cost filters

Many filter companies (particularly those that make reflectors or large sheets for movie production companies) will sell a set of samples (usually their entire line) for a small charge. These generally will fit entirely or mostly over small lenses.



Develop slide in negative chemicals, or vice-versa.

Develop your film…at Timmy’s

You can make developer with coffee, vitamin C, washing soda, fixer and dishwashing liquid. True. But it stinks even worse than real developer.


Covering a flash with an IR filter can produce enormous amounts of light in bars and ill-lit interiors without anyone noticing. To capture the light made by the IR flash, you’ll need an IR filter over the lens and an IR digital sensor or IR film. Digital sensors can be converted. There are digital cameras that come without the coating that blocks IR out of the box. A web search will turn up sites that list them.

B&W to Colour

Take the same shot in B&W 3 times, each time with a red, green and blue filter. Combine them as channels in PS to create a colour image. Things that move will not register properly, and create colour ‘ghosts’ in your image.

Top 10 Crap-tastic Cameras

David Burnett carries a Holga and a Speed Graphic in his kit bag. He’s won awards with them. You should, too.

  1. Diana, Diana +, Diana F+
  2. Holga 120, Holga 35
  3. Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim
  4. Fuji Instax, Fuji Instax Mini, Polaroid SX-70
  5. Kodak Hawkeye, Kodak Brownie
  6. Lomography Fisheye, Fisheye 2
  7. Olympus Trip 35
  8. Lomography LC-A
  9. Pinhole Blender
  10. iPhone

Good Books on Shooting Cheap

  • Camera Creative, Chris Gatcum, ISBN: 9780817424503
  • 50 Photo Projects, Lee Frost, ISBN: 9780715329764
  • Low Budget Shooting, Cyrill Harnischmacher, ISBN: 9781933952109
  • Digital Photography for Next to Nothing, John Lewell, ISBN: 9780470687260
  • The Pinhole Camera, Brian J. Krummel, ISBN: 9781442187665
One Comment leave one →
  1. November 19, 2010 10:57 pm

    thanks very good post

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