Whether you love taking pictures with a DSLR, your smartphone, or something in between, now’s a great time to get that perfect shot. If you need accessories, some lighting, a studio, or other tools to help you get it, here are some great projects that take a little time, energy and some DIY spirit.
10. Build Affordable, Portable, Quality Lighting
One of the most important things you need as a photographer is good lighting, especially if you plan to take great portraits and photos of objects. That said, good lighting doesn’t have to cost a fortune. We’ve shown you how even the most affordable lighting can make a huge difference, if you know how to position it and even how to shoot great portraits and headshots with just one light.
If that’s not enough to study up on, consider building these flexible LED panels that are portable enough to take with you this super-portable brownie-pan lighting panel, or upgrade your home photo or video studio with this four-point pro lighting setup using affordable shop lights.
9. Get Steady Shots and Video with a DIY Steadicam
Avoiding the dreaded shaky-cam is another important thing for budding photographers to learn, and for old hands to remember. Of course, it’s easier said than done, and while learning to breathe like a sniper will get you so far, you can also build a DIY Steadicam that will help you get perfect shots and smooth video everywhere you go.
We’ve shared a ton of DIY stabilisers and steadicams, from this $US10 ($13) kit you can put together yourself, to this $US15 ($20) version that will guarantee steady video.
If you’re on an extreme budget, these options are really simple — like, “grab a block of scrap wood” simple and this DIY option is perfect for a smartphone while this one is ideal for that tiny digital camera you haven’t replaced with a smartphone yet. Oh, and this one’s made using LEGO.
8. Set up anywhere with a DIY Tripod or Mount
Perhaps more important than a steadicam for getting smooth video or non-shaky photos is a tripod or camera mount you can use for perfectly still, stable shots. We’ve shown you a bunch of these too that are easy to make with a few items from around the house, or a quick trip to the hardware store for some inexpensive nuts and bolts. Consider this clamp camera mount as a super easy solution to get an odd-angled photo, or this space-saving DIY overhead mount for top-down shots and video.
If you’re really light on supplies but still want great photos, almost anything can stabilise a camera when used right — even a binder clip does the trick, or a frying pan, or better yet, a string and your own body.
7. Get Into Time-Lapse Photography
Everyone loves those beautiful time-lapse videos you see all over the web. Stars spinning across the night sky, beautiful natural landscapes with the sun passing over them, even city streets as time passes and people come and go — they’re all interesting, but they’re not as difficult to make as you might think.
Take a little time this weekend and learn how they work and try your hand at one or two — maybe recording a party for your friends, or even the view from your window over the course of a day.
If you need a little help, Microsoft’s Hyperlapse can help you out, as can Instagram’s own hyperlapse tool. Both are worth looking into depending on whether you want to shoot for a short period and then make it super fast, or shoot a really long period and then shorten it.
6. Learn how to Shoot Better Portraits
Time and practice are the keys to better photography, and if you have a face (and odds are you do) a little time out to learn to shoot better portraits will help the rest of your photography skills a lot. If you have someone to photograph, think about filling your frame with your subject for a more dramatic, intimate shot, and thinking about how you use light and how you adjust to harsh light when you have to.
If the only face you have is your own, you can still practice! Consider using open body language to create evocative, expressive images, and of course, don’t overdo the whole “shot from above”. These are just a few tips, but remember: practice!
5. Give Your DSLR a Firmware Upgrade and Add Wi-Fi
This project is a little more on the technical side, but what could be more valuable than the ability to shoot better photos, tweak your camera’s settings just the way you like, and have all of those photos wirelessly, easily saved where you need them? Consider adding a Wi-Fi SD card to your DSLR. We like the Toshiba Flashair, but there are lots of choices, each with different options.
As for custom camera firmware, your first step is to find out which one works the best for your type of camera. Many photographers love Magic Lantern, and we have a guide to installing it here.
There’s even a beginner’s video (above) on the topic here. Even if you have a point-and-shoot, upgrading remains an option.
4. Build a Motorised Camera Rig
Maybe you’re looking to add a little electronically-controlled power to your photography game. That’s great! This motorised rig is ideal for taking time-lapse video or panoramic long shots and while it takes some time and parts, it’s not too difficult to put together.
Similarly, you can build this automated motion controlled time-lapse rig (video above) to capture some of those beautiful sweeping vistas we mentioned earlier, all without you actually having to be there to manage the whole thing.
3. Take Beautiful Aerial Photographs
Most of us don’t have the opportunity to be real aerial photographers, but being stuck on the ground doesn’t mean you have to also be stuck with earthbound photos. This kite-based aerial photography rig can grab beautiful shots from as up high as you can get a kite.
Of course, you could also get into drone flight, assuming you buy one that’s great for capturing photos and video. Just learn to fly legally and safely if you do.
2. Back Up Your Photos
Learning to take great photos is one thing, but taking some time out on the weekend to properly back up your photos for posterity and make sure you have copies should something happen to your camera, your phone, your SD cards, or your computer, is another. If that sounds overwhelming, this flowchart and audio guide will help you kick your photo clutter.
Keeping local copies is one thing, and you should absolutely do that, but we’re also big fans of online backup services like Crashplan, or photo management services like Google Photos, the ever-present Flickr, or even Dropbox. These aren’t your only options either: here are tons more.
1. Master Your Camera’s Settings
If you really want a huge impact on how you take photos and the quality of the ones you snap with only a few hours of investment this weekend, you should spend some time getting familiar with your camera’s settings and options.
Whether it’s the 4K camera you likely already have in your pocket (aka, your smartphone), or all those symbols and choices on your DSLR mode dial, spend some time learning about what each one is for and when it’s used. We have a complete guide to the basics of photography that can help you out.
If you need more, this interactive chart will teach you the ropes and how those settings impact the photos you take, this video explains ISO settings and what they mean and this free photography course will walk you through even more of those settings and options individually (as will this one!) Don’t go crazy though — it’s good to have more information than you may need, but sometimes you just need to get out and start shooting. Practice will help you more than studying every tweak and option your camera has.