Do it yourself photo projects

Novel ways to get more out of photography without spending a fortune

Many years ago, when my wife decided to follow in my footsteps and become a scuba diver, I lovingly joked that she was mostly interested in buying all the accessories. In turn, she remarked that the only reason I was a photographer is because there's a never-ending parade of gadgets I could buy for that endeavour as well. And I can't disagree: photography is one of the most expensive pastimes ever invented. This week, I thought I'd share some novel ways to get more out of photography without spending a fortune--with a pair of "do it yourself" projects.

Make a flash card for free

If you have a high-end point and shoot or a Digital SLR, odds are good that you also have an external flash unit. Getting good flash photos is one quarter science, three quarters art--and generally just kind of difficult to do. The problem is that most flash photos can end up creating harsh lighting effects, with unnatural highlights and sharp shadows. Yuck. So people resort to buying all sorts of flash diffusers, ranging anywhere from US$20 to US$75. Some are simple, like the common Sto-fen , while some fall into the "so crazy looking it must be great!" category .

Well, believe it or not, you can make a flash diffuser that works great--arguably as well as commercial products costing US$75--for the cost of a piece of inkjet printer paper. For the nitty gritty on how it all works, check out this video from Peter Gregg .

It explains how to mount a small piece of paper on your flash and then orient your flash unit to take excellent photos with even, diffuse lighting. I've tried it, and can confirm that it works surprisingly well.

Build a lightbox

Perhaps your photographic proclivities lie in the capture of coins, stamps, jewelry, and other small items. Maybe you need to shoot subjects like these for Web sites or eBay. If so, you might have priced a lightbox or some similar gadget for capturing small scenes with studio-like lighting and found that they can cost anywhere from US$100 to US$250. Once again, I've got a bargain for you.

Check out the clever do-it-yourself light tent project at the Digital Photography School blog .

It looks like the sort of grade school project you might help your kids make late on a Sunday night, but this cardboard box-based light box takes surprisingly good photos, thanks to the great lighting control it affords. For the best results, you might want to perform one upgrade not mentioned in the article: instead of using ordinary daylight bulbs recommended in the tutorial, step up to more powerful 250W photo lights, which you can find at most photography stores.

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