Home How-To Tip Of The Week How To Turn A Shopping Bag Into A Softbox—12/05/11
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Monday, December 5, 2011

How To Turn A Shopping Bag Into A Softbox—12/05/11

...plus a few other quick fixes and camera hacks

This Article Features Photo Zoom

There are two ways to do any job: the right way and the shortcut way. Normally, the shortcut way is less than ideal. Cutting corners is no way to build a portfolio of great pictures. But sometimes, it's the shortcut way, the homemade approach, that harnesses do-it-yourself ingenuity that makes a truly great solution. When you're in a pinch and you break your tripod or left the right bag at home, you've got to think quick and hack together a solution. Here are a few of my favorites you can use to bail yourself out with these common objects.

— How to use a shopping bag as a softbox. First, let me be clear: do not attempt this with constant lights, strobe heads with fans, or any light fixtures that heat up. Otherwise you're making a fire, not a softbox. If you're using a handheld flash this tip will work for you. If you're stuck with no light-softening solution, and there's no low white ceiling off of which to bounce your flash, you can turn a regular plastic shopping bag (ideally a white one) into a softbox by simply holding it in front of the flash head. Sure you could secure it with rubber bands or tape, but simply puffing it up as large as possible and letting it catch your light source is a quick fix for harsh flash light.

— How to turn a string into a tripod. Okay, fine, it's not actually a tripod, but it does help to hold your camera steady. With a string at least twice as long as you are tall, wrap one hand with one end of the string, make a long loop down to the ground so that you can step on it, and then pull the other end of the string up and wrap it around your hand again. The whole thing should form a big V. Then while hand-holding the camera you pull up tight against the string. The tension will help to steady the camera and minimize the shake that makes blurry pictures. (If you'd like to get really deluxe, you can attach a 1/4-20 eyebolt to the bottom of your camera to attach the string, but that requires a little extra planning.)

— How to turn a tree into a fill light. You're shooting a portrait in the park. You've found nice open shade and positioned your subject so that the soft illumination is a very flattering portrait light. But there's just one problem: you could use a bit more fill. Believe it or not, you can use the very tree you're standing under for that fill. Move the subject closer to the tree trunk, like right next to the trunk, and with just the right positioning you'll get a subtle hint of reflected light off that tree that can help to fill (just barely) the shadow side of the face. (If the light is more directional and the trunk is actually flagging light from the subject, it can achieve the opposite effect, which is to create negative fill and a stronger contrast.)

— How to use your hand as a gray card. It's not for color balancing, but if you're looking to determine the appropriate exposure without chimping your LCD screen you can use the palm of a hand, almost any hand, because it tends to be very close to middle gray. Middle gray is what even the most advanced TTL camera meters base correct exposures off of—because it's in the middle of all the zones. Thus, middle gray. It's a close cousin to using your eyes as an accurate light meter (by understanding the “Sunny f/16 Rule”) and it can be very handy (pun intended) if you want to nail the ideal exposure in a tricky lighting situation. It's one of my favorite old-school photo hacks. If you've got a favorite, I hope you'll mention it in the comments below.

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