Special Effects with Photography
Samira Pillai shares some simple techniques you can try while shooting, to make photographs that are eye-deceiving.
This article was originally published in May 2009.
Photography can be dramatic, powerful and more, especially when you push the boundaries to experiment. It does not matter what equipment you own or how skilled you are—you can capture weird yet beautiful photographs. From experimenting with shutterspeed to using supplementary lenses, we bring you a whole bunch of techniques to try.
Repeat One Subject in One Photograph
One subject repeating itself several times in one frame is achievable through a simple technique called ‘multiple exposure’. Expose one frame several times, so that the main subject is in different positions in your frame. Calculate the total exposure required for a scene, and the number of times you need to expose it to determine the exposure for each frame.
For instance, if you plan to expose one scene thrice, then the exposure for each frame will need to be one-third of the total exposure needed. Use this technique to shoot people, make abstracts or even create a striking visual story.
Use Natural Lenses
A water droplet hanging on a leaf becomes an upside-down magnifying glass, and can be used to shoot inverted reflections of objects. Explore your surroundings and see what can be seen through this supplementary lens. Also, figure out whether the surroundings can be included in your frame too. Remember that the image you will see in the drop is the opposite of the actual image; so shoot a subject that is far away for smaller reflections, and a nearer one to fill the drop.
Attach the Camera to a Moving Object
Panning is yet another common technique for shooting moving subjects. But consider experimenting with the way you pan. For instance, you can attach a camera on the front of a cycle, bike or car. Then, use the momentum and direction of a moving object to pan the camera rather than doing it yourself. Depending on what your camera is attached to and how it moves, you will get concentric circles, zigzag shapes in the background blur, instead of the conventional horizontal panning effect!
Include Multiple Reflections in One Frame
Shooting symmetrical reflections is a very common technique, but shooting multiple reflections of a subject in the same frame can be worth experimenting and having fun with. When you are dealing with several mirrors, like in shopping malls, a house of mirrors (at fun fairs and amusement parks), you can shoot kaleidoscopic images. The impact is stronger with photographs of people, but you can try abstracts too!
Distort Your Subject
Some reflective surfaces such as glass buildings, rippled waters, a car’s metallic body, steel vessels or even bubbles can make a subject look funny, deformed or fragmented. If you are working close to your subject, use a macro lens or the camera’s macro mode and switch to Landscape mode (or set an aperture of f/8 or f/11), to achieve a greater depth‑of‑field.
Use Glass to Magnify
To make a more interesting portrait, ask the person to stand behind a transparent glass like a bottle or a drinking glass. The part of them behind the glass will be magnified, while everything else will look normal. It is best to avoid using flash because it will result in hot spots on the glass. Also, experiment with different apertures and see what results you get.
Use this technique with objects like flowers, pencils, a pack of cards and text in a book as well.
Shoot Very Long Exposures
Long exposures, when done well, can provide abstract results. For instance, fast-moving subjects (like waterfalls or speeding cars) can be made to look like unrecognisable blurs, whereas slowmoving subjects (like leaves swaying in the wind), can look like wavy patterns. All you need to do is choose the appropriate shutterspeed. If you use film, take advantage of the colour shift or ‘reciprocity failure’, to get some unusual colour casts.
Explore Multiple Light Sources
Differently coloured light sources can lend a colour cast to the scene. Exploit these tints to introduce new colours to your subjects and heighten the emotional impact of a photograph.
A scene may have mixed colour temperatures by default or you can add a colour filter in front of your lens or a colour gel filter on your flash, to introduce the drama in your photograph.
Toss Your Camera!
While that might sound scary, it is actually quite a popular trick. You basically need to set a long exposure, and then literally toss your camera as high as you can. Remember to catch it on its way down though! Since you do not know what your camera is seeing, the results can be surprising and crazy. If you are good with your throws, you can manipulate how your camera will move in the air. Use both your hands to simply rotate the camera completely once, if actually tossing the camera sounds like a daredevil stunt.
Break up R, G and B
Another simple and fun technique is the ‘Harris Shutter effect’, where you need to expose one frame thrice—one with the red filter on, the other with green and the last one with blue. Any still object in the frame will be rendered in neutral colours, and all moving objects will have vivid colours (R, G or B). This is why it is also called the rainbow or the tri-colour effect. It works best when you have moving water, clouds or even traffic in your frame. Photography as an art form is restricted only as much as your mind is. If you tweak the most basic techniques, you can achieve some extraordinary effects. All you need to do is apply logic and open up to the endless possibilities.
Try Flash Pumping
Use this technique when the ambient light of a scene is very low, or almost nil. Set your camera on a tripod and choose a slow shutterspeed, preferably the Bulb mode. Then, walk around and manually trigger an external flashgun to illuminate different parts of the scene—only these will show in the final image. You can also use different colour gel filters with the flash to get a multicoloured photograph.
Make Your Images Look Dreamy
To achieve a soft-focus in your photograph, use a translucent cloth, wire mesh, or a sieve in front of your lens. It is most useful when shooting portraits, flowers or when you wish to achieve a dreamy look.
Use Optical Effects and Defects to Advantage
Make use of the inherent qualities of lens optics and aperture, to introduce an element of interest in your photographs.
- Starburst: Turn the sun into a starburst by using a narrow aperture with a wide-angle lens. This causes the light to spread (in other words, diffract) along the boundaries of the aperture blades, making it look like a starburst. Position it carefully, such that it adds to the story of a picture and does not distract from the main subject.
- Flare: Lens flare is not always a bad thing. It helps invoke a sense of drama. Remove any lens hood, and let light hit the lens directly. This will cause the light to enter the lens and hit the film or sensor.
- Bokeh: Out-offocus highlights in a photograph are caused by any bright elements in the background; for example, the sky or light sources. It is emphasised when a shallow aperture is used. Include them in the frame as an add-on to the main subject.
Make Your Subjects Glow in the Dark: Simple Pointers on Photography in Ultraviolet Light
Like infrared photography, it is also possible to shoot some arresting photographs in ultraviolet light. Both IR and UV light are outside the visible spectrum (VIBGYOR)—while infrared light has a longer wavelength than red, ultraviolet light has a shorter wavelength than violet. Traditionally, a UV filter is used to prevent UV light from reaching the film or sensor. But by preventing all visible light and allowing only UV light, you can shoot some exciting photographs. Some colours fluoresce in UV light and that is what results in the “glow in the dark” effect.
To Shoot Subjects in UV Light:
- You will need to get ‘black light’—look for fluorescent tubes that are called ‘BLB’ (black light blue). These have an in-built filter that prevents most of the visible light from being transmitted.
- You will also need a barrier filter (like Kodak Wratten 2A / 2B or Baader UV/IR Cut filter) to prevent any visible light from reaching the film or sensor.
- Use fluorescent crayons, paint, ink and paper to paint your subject or even on a person. You can also try looking for special fluorescent make-up for shooting portraits. These effectively fluoresce in UV light. Commonly available things like tonic water, laundry detergent, tooth whiteners, petroleum jelly and some lightcoloured fabrics also look fluorescent under UV.
- You will need a dark room to work in and if possible a dark background for your subject. Black velvet is a good option, if you have it.
- For the correct exposure, spot meter from the brightest part of your subject. From this value, increase the exposure time by at least 2 EV. Your camera will need to be a on a tripod since the exposure time can be longer than usual.
- For sharp focus, switch on the main lights and lock the focus on your subject. Then shift to manual focus, switch off the main lights and expose the image.