So, you now understand the basics of using manual modes–but now what should you do with that new information? Grasping manual modes is an essential step in becoming a better photographer–celebrate your new achievement by putting that knowledge to good (and fun) use. While photography tricks may seem like something for just the pros, there’s plenty of tricks that can be mastered simply with a basic understanding of manual modes and a few tips. In fact, these photography techniques don’t even require Photoshop.
Here are 10 simple photography techniques anyone with a basic grasp of manual modes, a DSLR and a few accessories can master.
Create blur with zoom burst
Blue Bells by Alan Cleaver
Among Photoshop’s many capabilities is the option to add intentional blur—but you can add blur effects without any post-processing. Zoom burst is an effect that creates a startburst-like blur radiating out from the center of the image.
To create this effect, you’ll need a DSLR with a zoom lens; a tripod also comes in handy. Set the camera to a longer shutter speed. With the lens at its widest point, take the picture and zoom in while the shutter is still open. You’ll likely need to experiment with different shutter speeds to get the right effect. If you have one handy, use a tripod so that the only blur is the one coming from moving the lens.
Create background blur with intentional motion
Playing on the Merry-Go Round By Charles Knowles
Blur is created from any motion that occurs while the shutter is open. While blur is often unwanted, it can also create some interesting effects. To get the background to blur while the subject is nice and sharp, you’ll need to move the same speed as your subject.
Sound difficult? That’s okay; there are a few tricks. The easiest way to create background blur without Photoshop is to find a merry-go-round. Yup, just go to the park. Start it spinning, then hop on and snap away. This works great for portraits of children—plus you can even have them push—but it also works for still life. You’ll need to experiment with different shutter speeds. Just remember: longer shutter speeds will create more blur, while shorter shots will leave more of the background intact.
Try adding background blur with panning
Panning Car By Mark Michaelis
Using a merry-go-round allows you to move the same speed as your subject for background blur, but another way to add intentional blur to your images is through panning. You’ve probably seen these images before if you’ve ever looked through professional shots of a NASCAR race. These images show that the subject is moving, since freezing a car in an image can sometimes just make it look like it’s parked. Panning allows a moving subject to stay sharp while the still background is blurred. To achieve the right look, you’ll shoot at a slower shutter speed than you would to freeze the motion and move your camera along with the action.
Panning can be tricky to master, but if you head to a race track, you’ll have plenty of chances to try and tweak the technique. Make sure you have enough room to maneuver. Avoid stopping while the shutter is open, and keep panning with the subject for the right look. A tripod with panning capability can come in handy here. Use shutter priority mode unless you’re comfortable in manual. The best shutter speed will depend on how fast the subject is moving (Digital Camera World has a nice cheat sheet on what shutter speeds to use for what sport here). If you aren’t getting the results you want with autofocus, use manual focus to lock on to the part of the track where you expect the action to happen.
Add a glow by shooting at the right time of day
Tori by Tammy McGray
Shooting at the right time of day offers so much more than a simulated effect added later in Photoshop. For a warm, golden hue, shoot about an hour before sunset; photographers call this the golden hour for a reason. The light is a soft warm color and shadows aren’t as harsh as in the middle of the day.
To add a blue-colored hue to the image, shoot right after the sun sets. This offers a dark, blue light and can create a beautiful effect. Beware, though, you’ll probably need to use a tripod and a long shutter speed.
Adjust color directly in your camera
Marigold by Rony B Chandran
Color hues can also come from the camera’s settings, and not just the time of day. Experimenting with different white balance settings—the cloudy or shade preset, for example—will help bring out the colors of the sunset. Experiment with the different preset options to see how the color of the available lighting changes. Adjusting the white balance manually can also help.
Color settings can also be customized directly on the camera. On a Nikon DSLR, for example, if you locate “Picture Settings” under the menu, you can select from several different color options, like vivid and muted. Selecting an option will also give you the ability to customize it, so you can get the exact color you are looking for.
Add a special effects filter
Under the Sea by Zach Dischner
Filters are essential tools for the DSLR photographer, but there are also a few out-of-the-ordinary ones that can lead to some pretty cool effects. An infrared filter will completely change the coloring of the image for a dramatic look, like in the image above. Multiplicity filters will duplicate an object several times, without using Photoshop.
Another good filter to try is a cross star filter, which will take light sources and turn them into stars. The type of cross star filter will determine how many points the star has.
Shape your bokeh
The Good Old Music by Francesca Special K
Bokeh is the out-of-focus light in the background of an image. It’s a beautiful effect, but why leave it at just that? Bokeh filters can change those beautiful floating orbs into pretty much any shape imaginable. You can try a DIY version or pick up a kit like this one for about $25.
To get the most out of a bokeh filter, pair it with a wide aperture lens, such as an f1.8, and make sure there’s light in the background—preferably at least a few feet away from the subject. If there’s no light where you are shooting, Christmas lights are a great way to add more.
Add some magic with lens flare
Did you know that, in the “old days” of film, photographers actually tried to avoid these lens flares that many people now add digitally in Photoshop? Lens flare, on certain images, can actually add interest to the composition. Here’s a quick tutorial on how to capture a lens flare.
Shoot a long exposure
Palm Beach Long Exposure by Nigel Howe
There are several interesting things that happen when you use a long exposure and a tripod. First, all motion is blurred, which adds a pretty cool effect to moving water, and even to clouds and stars. And since a slow shutter usually requires a narrow aperture, the entire image looks sharp. Long exposure images also tend to have excellent color saturation.
To shoot a long exposure, you’ll need a tripod. Use full manual or shutter priority to select a long shutter speed, or perhaps even bulb mode, which keeps the shutter open until you press the button a second time. The speed you use will depend on what you are shooting and how much blur you want. If you need a very long shutter speed, neutral density filters will come in handy during daytime. To minimize camera shake, you can also use the timer setting or a remote. Experiment with different compositions and shutter speeds to find the look you want.
Paint with light
Light Painting by VFS Digital Design
Since photography is derived from Greek words that mean “drawing with light,” light painting is a pretty cool technique to master. For this trick, you’ll need a basic understanding of shutter speed, a camera with manual modes, a tripod, a dark location and a light source.
Set up your camera on the tripod in a dark area–and by dark, I mean really dark. If you are outside, avoid street lamps and headlights. Set your camera to shutter priority mode (or manual if you’re comfortable there) and choose a slow shutter speed; you’ll need at least a couple of seconds to create a pattern. Then, while the camera is taking the picture, move the light source around.
Flashlights will work fine, but you can also try adding colored flash gels to them to change the color of the light, or try using sparklers. Whatever movement the light source makes while the shutter is open will be recorded. Try drawing a shape with the light or spelling out a word. Experiment with different shutter speeds to find the effect you are looking for–you might need a much slower speed to have time to spell out a word, for example.
To keep yourself (or the person moving the light) out of the picture, wear black and avoid super-long shutter speeds. To show yourself (or helper) in the picture, use an even longer shutter speed and wear light-colored clothing (you’ll be blurry from the motion).
By mastering a few special effects, you may just surprise people when you tell them you haven’t been taking pictures for long. Don’t forget to share, so you can find this post again later and master all ten techniques.