Add Amazing New Features to Your Phone and Camera

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Dabble With Infrared Photography

Infrared photography is a bit of a novelty, but it can lead to some interesting daylight photography. Most cameras have IR filters built in and are optimized for the visible spectrum. To circumvent that, you'll have to block out the visible light. Your results may vary, but the simple hardware hack can definitely spice up your photos.

We'll start by making our own IR filter, using nothing but a floppy disk--the magnetic strip inside a 3.5-inch floppy disk blocks most visible light. Break off the metal tab, and split the disk along the seam to pop it open like a pistachio. Take the circular floppy center out, and cut out a strip large enough to completely cover the iris on your camera's lens.

As luck would have it, one of the halves of the floppy disk sports a hole large enough to cover a digital camera's lens. Using tape, affix the magnetic strip that you cut out to the center of this opening. Our new IR filter is assembled, and we're ready to take some photos.

Glancing through the LCD screen with the filter held in front of the lens, you'll find that everything appears to be bathed in red light. This is the effect of our infrared filter, which blocks out all visible light, except for deep reds and the infrared spectrum. Since solid-red vistas aren't especially interesting, try tweaking your color settings for a more interesting image.

If you set your camera to grayscale mode, objects that tend to reflect infrared light will appear white, while objects that absorb infrared light will appear dark. The effect is especially dramatic on foliage. Alternatively, you can try tweaking your white balance, to lend a striking appearance to your images. Check out the before-and-after shots here.

Try Some DIY Macro Photography

Getting a detailed, close-up shot of a small object requires finding the right focal length between your camera's lens and the object you're trying to photograph. If your digital camera offers a Macro mode, you'll have a general idea of how the process works. Get too close to or too far away from your subject, and your photo will become blurry. Professional photographers might use a macro lens, specifically designed for close-up photography and typically restricted to SLR cameras.

If you're just looking to snap a few neat close-ups, a pricey SLR is probably far more than you need. To approximate the effect,you can use a digital camera that offers a macro mode, plus a cheap magnifying glass. You should be able to pick one up at a hardware store--I found mine for a little less than $3.

A proper macro lens rests on the end of a barrel built to a specific focal length, but your own lens's barrel will be a bit less refined. You'll want to use something cylindrical. I opted for a can, because I wanted something sturdy enough to be gripped firmly or tossed into a bag, and yet light and (most important) cheap.

Remove the lids from both ends of the can--the magnifying glass and camera will sit on opposite ends. I drilled a hole and mounted my magnifying glass inside the can, for convenience.

A digital camera's lens can shift through a range of focal lengths. Zooming in on an object decreases the focal length. The shorter the focal length, the shallower the depth of field--you'll see your subject in greater detail, but you'll need to be rather close to keep it in focus. When we (or our cameras) look through a magnifying lens, we see an artificial image. Light strikes the glass's convex lens, causing the object we're looking at to appear larger than it really is.

With macro mode enabled, zoom in on an object, and take a look at it with and without your homemade macro lens. Couple that enlarged image with your camera's native focal length, and you'll suddenly decrease the minimum focusing distance, allowing you to get just a bit closer and see even greater detail. The trick works with your phone's camera too. You can try to replicate the effect with your camera's digital zoom, but you'll lose image quality by doing so.

Stabilize Your Photos, for Less

You may have noticed that holding a camera steady while snapping pictures of small objects can be a bit tricky. So let's fashion a cheap tripod to stabilize our camera.

You'll need a container heavy enough to counter the weight of your camera, with a screw-on lid -- I chose a jar for the purpose. You'll also need a 0.25-inch nut and bolt. First, drill a hole into the lid of the container; the hole should be large enough to accommodate the bolt. Push the bolt through the jar's lid from the underside, and fasten it there. Finally, screw the camera on to the end of the bolt, and then attach the lid to your container.

I fashioned my tripod out of materials that were at hand, but a water or soda bottle (filled with liquid) would be easier to transport, and would offer access to the camera's battery and SD card without your having to remove it from the base.

This story, "Add Amazing New Features to Your Phone and Camera" was originally published by PCWorld.

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