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Think-Outside-the-Box Photography

Updated on August 20, 2014

Crazy Ideas and Techniques

I like to experiment and play around with my camera. This is about some of my experiments, and sometimes I will tell you how I did it.

The image on the left is somewhat similar to one I entered in an art contest. I got third place in the creative category.

All photos are mine.

Weird Stuff

The Beer Tree

Always have your camera with you (if at all possible). I carry my DSLR with me, and have figured out how to do that without loading myself down. Look for the unusual.

I called this one "The Beer Tree". It was in someone's yard. Those are beer bottles on the "tree."

More weird stuff

Old, dilapidated buildings

I am always on the lookout for old, broken stuff: buildings, windmills, whatever. If it's man-made and it's so broken it's useless, I'm interested. I found this old house near I-10 north of Tucson, Arizona. It is so worn out that even a homeless person couldn't get in out of the rain.

Weird Stuff Plus

Add a lens or a filter

This is an old barn that has been restored and lives in a small outdoor museum east of Phoenix, Arizona. Inside are many antique farm tools and other things, including an old upright piano. I was taking a seminar on photography, and the instructor told us to do something weird. So I did. I ganged up a wide angle lens with some filters, and this is what I got. It looks like I used a fisheye, but I didn't.

The lens flares were fine with me.

About this quiz

Don't be afraid to use a fast shutter speed where other people usually won't. There is more than one way to handle a subject.

Take Advantage of Your Mistakes

I was trying to catch a bird in flight. Unfortunately, I tend to get excited when I am trying to capture something like that. I'm getting better, but it's still a problem. So in this case, I moved the camera. I liked the results anyway.

Use Filters Creatively

For this type of picture, I use two filters at the scene. One of them is hand-designed and hand-made. The exact thing I do here is a trade secret. :)

The first one is a photo of the Santa Rita Mountains. They have snow on top. I called this one "The Dream." The second one was one I took yesterday near my home. It is called "The Hidden Colors of the Sky."

Back at the Outdoor Museum

The Chapel

I now know two ways to get a starburst like this. One needs a filter which is designed to produce starbursts. I have several. This one was done without a filter. To get this effect, stop your lens down all the way. Face into the sun, and make sure the sun is partly behind a solid object.

Cokin Filters

Cokin makes an unusual filter system. It has a holder which is square. There are three slots. The holder slips over a ring that you screw on the lens of your camera. There are two sizes of sets. Each set has a number of square filters that can be slipped into the slots. I sometimes use a single filter, and sometimes I gang up two.

This image was made by ganging up two graduated brown filters.

Christmas Lights at Night

We have a square mile area inside the city with many nice houses, and every year they put up a Christmas display. The area is called Winterhaven. It draws many visitors each year, over about a two week period. You will find the normal Christmas displays, but sometimes you will see something unusual, like this:


A Good Time to Use Unusual Filters

Star filters are especially suitable.

Faceted filters work well, too.

A Dreamy Mountain Scene

I took this photo from the saddle on the trail to the top of Picacho Peak, north of Tucson, Arizona. The sky was changed with a graduated orange filter.

Collect Textures

Textures are important. I collect them from everywhere. I can use them to make collages, or backgrounds for other things. For example, I once used one of my fractals as a background for a picture of an ocelot. Another time, I collected images of a man's collection of stained glass windows, that he had made, and put together a collage of these and used them as a background for a couple of his twisted wooden chairs. He liked the result.

In the next few photos, I will show some of the textures I have collected.

Water makes a nice texture. I collect a lot of water textures from my waterbird photos, as I did here.

A species of mushroom (discussed in another lens):

Make Your Own Arrangement

Here, I took some peacock feathers from our peacock, and arranged them on the ground on top of some Sand Spurge (see my Lens on Bellyflowers), and then photographed them.

Old Trees

and other twisted wood

I am constantly taking pictures of old twisted trees or fallen tree trunks, or any other kind of interesting wood I find when I am hiking.

This is probably an Alligator Juniper, although at first I thought it had been fire damaged. The first picture shows what it looked like, and the second picture shows what happened when I had an "accident" and moved the camera.

Sometimes It's the Little Things...

This is another tree I found out on a hike. I noticed something very interesting ON the tree, but being in a hurry, I didn't stop for a macro; I just took a picture of that part of the tree. Later, I cropped to what I found: some sap that had an interesting iridescence to it.

More Trees

Sometimes, the trunk of a tree just above the ground is interesting...

Sometimes it's just an entire dead tree against a lowering sky...

An Ironwood...

Another trunk just above the ground...

Fun with Filters

Waterfall in Alabama

I like the antique look...

Same falls, different angle and filter...

And ground color...

Over by Picacho Peak

I get these weird sky colors by ganging together two Cokin filters. One is a linear polarizer, and the other is what I call a dichroic polarizer. This is a filter that produces predominantly two colors. For example, it might be red/green, red/blue, or violet/yellow. Then I rotate both filters until I get something I like, and I shoot.


You can obtain Cokin filters here:


B&H is a very large store in New York that sells just about everything related to cameras, and a bunch of other stuff, too. And of course, they have an excellent online store in addition to their "brick and mortar" store. They are very reliable, and I have bought stuff from them for several years. They also usually have the best prices. Note: they're very serious about keeping Jewish holidays. You can look, but you can't buy, on the Sabbath, or other important holy days.

An Old Barn in Alabama

Graduated Cokin filter to change the sky color...

OCCASIONALLY Black and White Works Well

I am not a fan of black and white. We live in a world of color. I will often get on the case of an artist who presents a landscape in black and white. Usually, Ansel Adams he's not. But occasionally, black and white just seems more appropriate. This is a Cactus Wren in a snowstorm, and I think the black and white makes him look colder!

I converted this to black and white in Paint Shop Pro.

Speaking of Birds...

Here I was, trying to take a photo of a bird, and just at that moment, he decided to shake out his feathers. Another fortuitous accident.

Guess the Technique

This is a technique I have seen used a number of times, but I think it gives nice results, so here is my example.

I have been invited to submit a small collection of images to an art gallery, which show nature in a somewhat abstract version. This is one of the images I will use.

Books on Creative Photography

This is just a random collection of books on Amazon I found intriguing. Hopefully, I will be able to afford to buy one or more, but not right now. But take a look, and see if you think these will be helpful.

Creative Photography Lab: 52 Fun Exercises for Developing Self-Expression with your Camera. Includes 6 Mixed-Media Projects (Lab Series)

by Steve Sonheim, Carla Sonheim

The Creative Photographer

by Catherine Anderson

This one is about creative ways to USE a photograph AFTER you take it and make it what you want.

The A-Z of Creative Photography, Revised Edition: A Complete Guide to More than 70 Creative Techniques

by Lee Frost

Creative 52: Weekly Projects to Invigorate Your Photography Portfolio

by Lindsay Adler

The Unforgettable Photograph: 228 Ideas, Tips, and Secrets for Taking the Best Pictures of Your Life

by George Lange


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