6 crazy tricks for digital cameras and photos

Draw images with light on your photos, make time-lapse video from a lowly point-and-shoot, fix your stereo with your digicam, and more fun tricks.

Draw Messages With Light on Live Photographs

If your digital camera offers a manual shutter speed, you can use LEDs (light-emitting diodes) to write messages in a long exposure. The whimsical results have more personality than Photoshop tricks, and you can share them instantly from the camera.

Because LEDs shine very brightly, yet in a concentrated area, they work better for this trick than other light sources (such as ordinary flashlights or a cell phone).


Use a small LED flashlight or buy LEDs from RadioShack and attach them to 3-volt disc batteries. Mount your camera on a tripod or a steady table, and set it for a long exposure. Play with the settings: I got good results at f/20, with exposure times of 20 seconds or more. If there isn't much ambient light, don't worry about leaving the shutter open too long; those lengths just give you more time to draw. While the shutter is open, sketch through the air with the LEDs. You can even fire the camera's flash--or shoot with another flash, such as on a different camera--to illuminate people in the foreground. --Zack Stern

Use Long Exposures for Crazy Camera Effects

Stop shooting pictures that all look the same. You can set a longer shutter time to control a photograph's final look.

Nature scenes: Try this trick when you're shooting a waterfall, an ocean beach, or even rustling leaves. Mount the camera on a tripod or set it on a stable surface. Put it in shutter-priority mode, and try a time of about 2 to 5 seconds. (Shutter priority is often abbreviated with Tv--literally, "time value"--or S on a camera mode dial. Check your camera's manual.) Use a remote to press the shutter button to avoid shaking the camera, or rely on the self-timer feature. Water, leaves, and other moving objects will gently blur together.


People or animals in motion: For another trick, try a handheld shot of a moving person or animal with a slightly longer shutter speed than normal. If you can match the subject by pivoting or walking alongside them, the background will blur, as shown in the photo here, but the foreground will stay in focus. Use shutter-priority mode again, and try a shutter speed of about 1/20 of a second. Mix in a burst of the flash--even in daylight--to further sharpen the foreground subject. --Zack Stern

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Zack Stern and Dave Johnson

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