Photography Tips For The College Budget

For today's post we've partnered with Amaris Woo. She's a junior at University of Pacific and an active photographer who also dabbles in creative non-fiction. Enjoy as Amaris breaks down how to make the most of your photography without breaking your college budget. 


Sometimes people ask me if I get bored of taking photos on campus after being here for almost two years, but I find that there’s always something new to see. There are some subjects in photography (flowers, the Golden Gate Bridge, sunsets) that are thought to be overused, but I disagree. You can always make a photo unique in your own way. When I take photos on campus or of things near me, I try to look for new perspectives. All this can be achieved with a low budget – or none at all. By low budget, I mean not having to travel far or spend over about ten to fifteen dollars on a project, aside from the cost of gear such as cameras and tripods.

I believe that the possibilities in photography are endless, so I decided to share some ideas and things to look out for when taking pictures on a low budget to make photography more accessible. I’ve included some of my photos as examples. These were taken with a Nikon D3300) and have some edits to them via Adobe Lightroom.

 
 
 

 

Lighting is important in photography, but how about actually incorporating light as a subject or main factor in your photographs? This can be done in various ways, though my favorite is light painting. First, we must understand shutter speed. When you take a photo, you press the shutter to capture the image. With many cameras and even some phones now, you can set a longer/slower shutter speed (for instance, a whole second to over thirty seconds). Within that time frame, all the movement in front of the camera is captured. If you move, you’ll become a blur. You should put your camera on a tripod for this, but if you don’t have one, you can try setting your camera on a countertop or even on a friend’s shoulder.

To light paint, all you need is at least one source of light. This can be anything from a phone flashlight to a glow stick. After setting a long shutter speed and pressing the shutter, you can move the light source around in front of the camera. You’ve essentially “painted” a picture with the light. This is an example image where the person waved around a phone flashlight in a random way. You’ll notice that you can hardly see the person at all; that’s because they were in constant movement (and weren’t lit up like a light) so the camera couldn’t see them.


 
Quick test photo in front of the UC lawn

Quick test photo in front of the UC lawn

 

Once you’ve had enough practice you can move the lights around in a different manner or draw an actual picture. You can even try different kinds of light beyond flashlights.

Christmas lights in a jar in my home. 

Christmas lights in a jar in my home. 

Light painting with Pacific Photo Club

Light painting with Pacific Photo Club

The first photo involved a glass jar and Christmas lights. The second was inspired by one of my favorite photographers, Eric Paré. He teaches people to use tube guards (plastic tubes that can be found at Home Depot for less than five dollars) to light paint. All you need is to insert at least one flashlight into the tube, and then you have your own lightsaber. I bought plastic colored gels on Amazon and put them in the tube to get colors in the photo. I positioned myself behind the model and swung two tubes in a circle.


 
 

 

Reflections are one of my favorite things to look out for. They cost nothing, and you can find them almost everywhere. I love looking for them after rainy days, but they can come from windows, phones, and mirrors. They can help your photo look more surreal, like a portal to another world. Other times, they help you see a subject in a new way.

Burns Tower at University of the Pacific is thought to be too common of a subject. So how about seeing it in a puddle?

 
In front of Knoles Hall

In front of Knoles Hall

 

I’ve seen some photographers make their own reflections (literally bringing bottles of water to pour on the ground) but I find that it’s easier to look for natural reflections, which are quite abundant. Once you realize how cool reflections can be, you may start noticing other common things – shadows, lines, and colors, for instance. – and how they make interesting compositions. Use those in your photos too!

Lincoln Canter, Stockton

Lincoln Canter, Stockton

Faye Spanos Concert Hall

Faye Spanos Concert Hall

 
 

 

Sometimes you can buy or find cheap items to enhance your photos or be subjects in them. For instance, you can get a prism to use in portrait photography. If you’ve seen the recent trend of people with small rainbows created with light over their faces, that’s a way they achieve the effect.

There may be many things in your home that can be used for photography. If you have a figure such as a toy soldier, a Stormtrooper, etc., you can use it for toy photography. This little guy is Danbo, purchased from Amazon for less than ten dollars. You can always reuse the resources you have, too.

Still life workshop with Pacific Photography Club

Still life workshop with Pacific Photography Club

Still life workshop with Pacific Photography Club

Still life workshop with Pacific Photography Club

You can also see if friends and family can lend you an item to use. If you’re at school, chances are you’ll have access to more resources.

Pacific Photo Club workshop with a fog machine. 

Pacific Photo Club workshop with a fog machine. 

Crystal ball photography (bought on Amazon).

Crystal ball photography (bought on Amazon).

Supplies at dollar stores can be perfect for photoshoots too. Last year I helped with a photoshoot that involved multiple people throwing streamers at a model.

 
Photo Jun 14, 8 56 31 AM.jpg
 

 

Events at school can provide you with good subjects. Maybe it’s a culture show where you can practice portraits or an event that involves good-looking food. Maybe there’s an interesting art gallery or a talent show. The following three photos were taken during free events at school.

Chemistry event at Homecoming

Chemistry event at Homecoming

Powercat at Homecoming Rally

Powercat at Homecoming Rally

Safe Trick or Treat

Safe Trick or Treat

Events off campus and/or in your hometown can be great opportunities for photos. These were taken at (or near) Christmas in the Park in San Jose and Sacramento ArtStreet. Both events were free of charge.

Sacramento Art Street

Sacramento Art Street

Sacramento Art Street

Sacramento Art Street

Christmas in the Park, San Jose

Christmas in the Park, San Jose

Christmas in the Park, San Jose

Christmas in the Park, San Jose

 
 

5.     Just walk around

The easiest thing to do is to walk around and take photos of what’s near you. Reflections can be handy here, but there’s so much more. I like walking around during golden hour (an hour before sunset or an hour after sunrise) to capture flowers and prepare for the sunset. These were taken on campus.

Plum blossoms before spring. 

Plum blossoms before spring. 

Rose garden in front of Burns Tower. 

Rose garden in front of Burns Tower. 

Sunset. 

Sunset. 

Just walking around can help you see things you’ve never seen before. This is how I never get bored when taking photos on campus, and how I always see something new. Different seasons and different times of day provide for infinite possibilities.

If you’re not sure what to look for, there are numerous things you can do to help yourself get creative. Listening to music can set you in a mood, and that can translate into the photos you take. If that doesn’t help, you can always try a photo challenge with yourself or a friend. If you search online (example: “Thirty Day Photography Challenge”), you can follow a list and go on a scavenger hunt. Maybe you’ll take a photo of a person one day and a tree the next. Perhaps you’ll go out and find things in nature and architecture that resemble letters of the alphabet. It’s even more fun if you challenge a friend to do the same and compare photos to understand how each person interpreted the challenge.

 
 

 

Sometimes I meet people who like photography and tell me that all they have is a phone. But in today’s age, phone photography is becoming increasingly popular because of its accessibility. Some phones can take equal or even better pictures than cameras can. In 2016, a student won a top National Geographic prize with a photograph shot on an iPhone 6s. With editing apps and social mediums such as Instagram, you can enhance your photos even more.

I decided to include two unedited phone photos that I’ve taken to showcase what you can do with a phone. These were taken with an iPhone 5c, which doesn’t have a fantastic camera.

Huge projects are wonderful, but sometimes the best photos can be taken around you with what you have at hand. All you need to do is go out and shoot!