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Tips & Tricks

Become a More Creative Photographer | 8 Tech Tricks to Experiment With in 2016

By Lauchlan Toal on December 31st 2015

As 2015 comes to a close, we’re all thinking about our plans and goals for 2016. Many of these goals are big picture things – get more clients, improve your website, make more time for photos with family. It’s great to have these overarching, guiding goals in mind. It’s also worth thinking about smaller things, fun things. Remember when you were just getting started with photography, and all the exciting new techniques you were learning? Every day you’d read about something new, and think about how many awesome photo opportunities it would create.

For example, Alicia’s awesome article on making Twirls inspired new ways to think about post-processing.

Twirl

As time goes by, we stop doing this. We know all the techniques, so we stop reading about them. We develop our core skill set and stick with using the same techniques that have worked for everything. This is key to becoming consistent and reliable, but our creative mind craves novelty. More importantly, as we venture outside of our comfort zone, we push ourselves to think about challenges in a new light and discover better ways to make excellent photos. So here are eight tech tricks you can experiment with in 2016 to become a more creative photographer.

1. Play With Flash Modes

Using flash to light up a photo is pretty simple – as long as some photons hit your subject while the camera’s recording, you succeed. Hence, it can be easy to just leave your flash on the same setting and not think about it. In doing so, there are tons of creative opportunities being missed! Try playing with settings like rear curtain sync, front curtain sync, and stroboscopic mode. This opens up a world of inventive photography, from dragging the shutter to get light trails in an otherwise frozen photo to capturing the trajectory of a person or object. The more you test these different settings, the more prepared you are to notice and capitalize on the chance to use them to great effect. To learn more about flash and lighting, check out our Lighting 101 and Lighting 201 tutorials.

2. Use Colored Gels

Here’s another flash trick – use gels. Sure, you can adjust colours in Photoshop, but if you want a truly cinematic or dramatic look, gels are the ultimate tool. Whether you use them for creative effect, to negate color casts from odd lighting, or even to polarize your flash, gels will provide you with tons of ways to make your work stand out. I’m a fan of the “Strobist Collection” from Rosco, as it provides tons of variety. However, no polarizing gels, only colored and neutral density. (The ones I have seem to have been discontinued, so I’ve linked to their successor.)

Rosco Strobist Gels

3. Learn Basic Video Editing

Video is becoming very important to photographers, and it’s worth learning basic post-production. Perhaps you want to make a behind the scenes video of your work, or even start offering some video services yourself. Just like with photography, editing is absolutely crucial to video. Fortunately, to get started, you don’t need to fork out for the high-end video production suites. Photoshop already has the capability to edit video and offers the same powerful color correction tools as it has for photos. While not nearly as sophisticated as other programs, you can get started with color grading and sharpening your footage to take your work to the next level. I wrote a tutorial on editing video in Photoshop for Photographylife earlier this year, which can help you get started.

4. Try Some DIY Photography Hacks

Sure, it’s nice to have all the proper gear, but sometimes we forget something at home, don’t realize we need it until it’s too late, or simply can’t afford it. Making a “tripod” out of string, inventing your own light modifiers, or using your camera strap as a graduated ND filter all make for fun projects that will both improve your photos and help with your creativity in the field.

[REWIND: BEST DIY PHOTOGRAPHY PROJECTS 2015]

The photo below was taken by using my camera strap as a graduated ND filter, covering the sky for longer than the sea.

Coastal Sunrise with Camera Strap ND Grad

5. Revisit HDR

High Dynamic Range photography gets a bad rap, as it’s seen as overdone and gaudy. Thanks to this, it tends to be ignored by many photographers as a legitimate technique. The truth is, it doesn’t have to be bad! A subtle use can be very effective in bringing a bit more detail out of the shadow and highlight areas in an image, as well as improving color and sharpness. You don’t have to make every image 50 shades of gritty neon – a good photographer can easily use HDR to overcome challenging lighting and create an excellent photo. Check out our HDR Tutorials to learn this technique.

6. Learn Super-Resolution Photography

This is a pretty awesome trick that takes advantage of the Bayer array most digital sensors use. Each pixel is only sensitive to red, blue, or green, and the true color is extrapolated from nearby pixels. By taking several shots in a row with ever so slight shifts in camera position, the pixels pick up slightly different parts of the image, and when you merge several of these shots together, it’s almost like you’re getting the true color on each pixel. This allows you to scale the image up quite a bit, increases resolution, improves color, and greatly reduces noise. If you haven’t tried it before, I would highly recommend checking out Ian Norman’s excellent Superresolution tutorial.

The photo below is a roughly 300% crop of an image.

Upscaled Crop

After taking eight more images in a burst and combining them into a superresolution file, I got this.

Superresolution Crop

7. Give Back Button Focus a Try

Lots of sports and wildlife photographers swear by this, so if you haven’t tried it, give it a shot and keep it in mind for when you need to shoot fast action. Back button focus is pretty simple – instead of half-pressing the shutter button to focus, you use your thumb to hit the AF-ON button on the back (or the exposure lock button, configured to AF-ON). This way focusing is disconnected from the actual taking of the photo, and you have a little more freedom to refocus without stopping to half-press the shutter.

8. Use Some of the Automatic Modes

This is one I’ve been ignoring way too much. You buy a DSLR to have full control over everything, so why use anything but full manual? While I’ve never missed a shot from being in manual mode, sometimes it can slow you down, and you never know when you need to capture a once in a lifetime shot in a hurry. Even just using auto-ISO can be a time saver, and could be the difference between a usable shot or a dark mess. However, I think Shutter Priority is the best mode for off-the-cuff shooting. More often than not, you need to freeze motion, and you care less about depth of field. For wedding and portrait shooters, you may prefer Aperture Priority to control the bokeh. To make transitioning from automatic settings to your preferred settings, many cameras offer setting banks or user modes that you can configure to your tastes, and quickly switch between.

[REWIND: Aperture Priority vs. Shutter Priority vs. Manual Mode]

So there you have it, eight photography tricks that will move you outside your comfort zone and get the creative juices flowing. There are so many more, and every time you take out your camera, you can try thinking of new ways to approach a challenge. The more techniques you’re comfortable with, the more inventive you’ll be, and the better your images will be.

Happy New Year, everyone! Have fun trying these fun photography tricks, and be sure to share your favorites in the comments or in our Community Group.

Lauchlan Toal is a food photographer in Halifax, Nova Scotia. When not playing with his dinner, he can be found chasing bugs, shooting sports, or otherwise having fun with photography. You can follow his work online, or hunt him down on the blogs and forums that he frequents.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Michael Henson

    Good stuff, Lauchlan! Love the superresolution idea and I’m planning on introducing gels to my process this year. I have them, I’ve just always forgot and left them at home at inopportune times.

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  2. Ralph Hightower

    Use Some of the Automatic Modes.
    For the most part, I’ve used automatic. It seems bizarre to use aperture priority for sports, but it was a night baseball game, so I set the aperture to wide open and let the shutter speeds fall where they may; I was using Kodak TMAX 3200 and Ilford Delta 3200 film.
    In the late 1970’s, I did my research on SLRs. Canon was the leader of the pack with their aperture priority, shutter priority, programmed mode, stopped down metering (for lenses that don’t signal aperture), and manual. I’ve used the priority modes of shutter and aperture, programmed, and stopped down for my T-mount Spiratone 400mm f6.3.

    One of the monthly meetings of the local camera club was Panoramas. I was initially going to let the “Photoshop” guys submit their stuff. But then, I thought “Why not me?” when I found Corel Paint Shop Pro can create panoramas. It made sense to me that shutter speed and aperture should remain constant. I metered for the darkest area and used three frames of Kodak Ektar 100 with a 28mm lens. I had the Canon Lens Work book from the 70’s and figured the degree coverage for a panorama.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/ralphhightower/8436105383/in/album-72157633129780373/

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  3. Fisnik Islami

    nice one

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  4. Joseph Ford

    I really like your ideals, while I abandon HDR photography as a fad, with many of the new tools it may become a good time to explore it again.

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    • Colin Woods

      Some of my best sellers are HDR, when done lightly it can give superb results. Have a look at Trey Ratcliffe’s new software AuroraHDR. Its superb, I paid my $100 willingly.

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    • Joseph Ford

      Will do.

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