Experimental Photography Techniques


For the beginner, there are many experimental photography techniques that can fulfill the desire to be original and creative without requiring too much effort. For the more seasoned photographer, there are experimental photography techniques that one can use--including darkroom developing techniques--to liven up their work. Continue reading to learn more about in-camera, camera usage and processing methods that can be used to create experimental photographs.

Types of Experimental Photography Techniques

An experimental photography technique can be defined as anything that one uses to alter or otherwise change a photography in a way that differs from just taking a photograph. Often, the phrase refers to darkroom developing techniques. However, it has grown to include effects inside of modern digital cameras and techniques involving camera usage, such as extended exposures. 'Experimental' is now even applied to some digital editing techniques.

In-Camera Techniques

Many people consider the options present within many digital cameras to be there just for fun but to a serious photographer, they can help them experiment in their work.

Some ways to use in-camera settings for experimental effects:

  • White Balance: This setting is meant to compensate for the type of lighting used in photos. There are normally settings for daylight, cloudy weather, fluorescent bulbs and more. Using the 'wrong' setting can sometimes create interesting effects--such as heavily saturated or color-stripped images.
  • Flash: Common digital camera settings include red-eye reduction, night lights and delayed flash options. Using these for other means can create images with streaky lights and photographs that look more like paintings than pictures. For example, using red-eye reduction flashes on night skies can often create painted red skies.
  • Color Settings: Most digital cameras feature the ability to choose color settings such as sepia, black & white, negative image and solarization. A quick setting change can change your image from mundane to wow.

Camera Usage Techniques

An extended exposure

Some of the most fun and user-friendly techniques for experimental photo work are methods that involve how one uses their camera. Some of these methods give the photographer a great feel of power because they will feel 'in charge' of their photograph.

  • Focus: A common camera technique in experimental work is purposely taking a photograph that is not in focus. This can include the full frame being out of focus or just the foreground. This technique is often bolstered by using coloring techniques for a more frightening feel.
  • Extended Exposures: An extended exposure is a photograph that leaves the film exposed to light for longer than normal times. It is commonly used in night photography to get photographs of night skies and celestial bodies. It is also used to create lines of light or to capture action. On many older manual SLRs, the procedure can be performed by setting the camera dial to a certain setting and holding the button down for as long as desired.
  • Double Exposure: This technique involves impressing two often separate images on one frame of film. In fact, one could impress as many photos as they would like on a single frame of film. This technique is performed in older SLRs by manually choosing to not advance the film. This can also be performed on digital SLRs by in-camera settings. It can also be achieved through the wonder of Photoshop.

Processing Techniques

There are literally hundreds of different experimental methods to producing artwork by processing photographs. Some of the most common methods are covered below.

Experimental processing
  • Since color and black and white films are developed in different chemicals, experimental photographs can be created by simply developing a roll of black and white film as a roll of color film or vice-versa.
  • Pre-exposing photographic paper; printing images on photographic paper by using light and not an enlarger; and overexposing portions of photographic paper are three common methods of using photographic paper for experimentation.
  • Photograms are images made by placing items on photographic paper and then exposing them to light. This method does not even involve a camera!

Other Experimental Methods

Some other techniques to create experimental works:

  • Toy cameras are often used in experimental ways. Many use these 'cheaper' devices in creative ways to bend light.
  • Pinhole cameras have been used by many famous Dada artists to create unique images.
  • Almost any photograph can become 'experimental' in the digital age by manipulating the image through software such as Photoshop. One can invert colors, bend the lines in the photograph, blur the image, and much more.
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Experimental Photography Techniques