How To: Toss your Camera :: Digital Photo Secrets

How To: Toss your Camera

by David Peterson 2 comments

OK, first of all, don't try this. There. Now I'll tell you how to try the thing you're not going to try. It's camera tossing, and it can create some really cool, abstract images. And also destroy your camera. So don't do it, seriously. Unless you want to. But please keep in mind that I told you not to.

Yes, camera tossing is something that should be done at your own risk, because it's exactly what it sounds like. You're going to take your camera and throw it into the air, and then hopefully catch it again. This can (and probably will, if you do it enough times) cause great damage to your camera, but the results might be worth it.

[ Top image Swirl! [EXPLORED] by Flickr user Chínmay]


You don't need an expensive DSLR to get great camera toss shots. So use an inexpensive point-and-shoot for this, preferably one with a "tough" designation, though keep in mind that even being "tough" might not save your camera from this kind of abuse. Avoid cameras with lenses that pop in and out, because they're easier to damage.

  • Canon EOS 550D
  • 100
  • f/22.0
  • 1
  • 18 mm

Randomness by Flickr user Chínmay

Your point and shoot does need a few key features. It should give you the ability to select your shutter speed, or have a "night" setting that will capture longer exposures. A self-timer is also useful (though not required). And that's really all you need.

Here's how it's done

Many camera toss photos are variations on those car light trail photos you've seen so much of, only much more abstract. If you're going for light trails, you need to have a good light source in your image. This is what is going to give you results like what you see in the top image. You can use anything for your light source - a lamp, a television set, a string of holiday lights, a lit jack-o-lantern, really anything that emits a reasonably strong light. You'll need the room to be pretty dark otherwise, so that you don't capture any unimportant information in the shot.

Once you have your light and your camera, set it up for a longish-exposure (one to four seconds) or put it in "night" mode if that's the only option you have. Then, turn on the self timer, make sure the lens is pointed at the light source, wait until just before the shutter releases, and toss the camera into the air. Or you can set your camera up with a long exposure and just press the button, then toss, which may require a bit more coordination and will give you slightly different results. Don't worry, you don't need to fling your camera. You should not hit the ceiling, or (if you're outdoors) a passing bat. You really only need to toss your camera about a foot in the air, give or take. Then, (ideally), you'll want to catch the camera when it comes back down :-)

Retinal Scan by Flickr user jah~

You can also do this in the daytime for a completely different effect - you'll get some interesting motion blur this way, though you may have some trouble getting your point and shoot to agree to a slow shutter speed in full daylight. If this is a problem for you, wait until dusk or an overcast day to toss your camera.

You can attach your camera to a safety line to safeguard it from you accidentally dropping it, but there are those who say you'll be defiling the purity of the art. Much like a tightrope walker who uses a safety net isn't really walking on a tightrope. I'll leave you to make your own judgments about camera toss purity. If you decide you do want the full camera-toss experience, you can put down a mattress or some soft foam which will hopefully break your camera's fall if you do happen to drop it.

Throwing techniques

It's not just about tossing your camera straight up in the air and catching it again. You have to get some interesting movement on it. Start by spinning your camera - it can be a slow spin or a fast one, it can be left or right. You can flip the camera end over end, or you can do a crazy lomcevak (that's where you just let it tumble out of the sky). You can also toss the camera to a friend and get some even crazier/longer spins on it.

  • Kodak P880 Zoom
  • 50
  • f/2.8
  • 0.003 sec (1/400)
  • 5.1 mm

90/365 Lobbest Thou Holy Kodak Of Antioch by Flickr user sunface13

Once you get the hang of tossing and catching, start to think about your environment and what might make a good camera toss image. Those daylight tosses have a lot of potential for creativity - you can try to get a self portrait, for example, by standing beneath the camera as the shutter fires (good timing is everything). Or you can use camera toss techniques to simply capture the color and texture in your scene.

Toss Bang by Flickr user jah~


Like every other form of photography, camera toss takes a lot of trial and error, luck (more than just one kind of luck) and the ability to see the world around you differently. Once you start to get a feel for the kinds of images you can create with camera toss techniques, you'll be able to visualize the way the colors and textures around you will look when captured with an end-over-end point and shoot, though one of the wonderful things about this technique is its ability to keep surprising you. None of your images are going to turn out exactly like you thought they would, and that's the true beauty of the art (plus much of what makes it so addictive).

Or look at some of the great examples of camera toss photography I've collated.

But seriously, though, don't try it.

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  1. Alyn McConnaha says:

    "TOSSING>>>" We have a Civil War event here in Lebanon, In. I have a Olympus camera, SH-1, which has a "touch" setting on the shutter. This past Summer, as I was processing pix from the show, I noticed one excellent one, which I did not recall taking: after investigating. I concluded I had had the "touch" control on---accidentally. Unknowingly.
    Damn camera was smarter than I !!!
    Alyn McConnaha!

  2. Never you mind says:

    Rather than taking a chance in tossing a camera, in movie mode, hold on to it while you wildly swing it in every direction without regard to what the camera is seeing. Do this in movie mode. You might get some interesting photos though if you move very quickly, covering the greatest area in the shortest time you will get a file that can be used to guarantee the randomness of a possibly backdoor-ed random number. Hello NSA. Just XOR your movie file with the possibly compromised random # file and feel safer with your new random #. Random #s are critical to cryptography and secure communications and who knows what has been compromised. As an alternative, run the suspect random # through several hashes. Thanks, Steve Gibson for teaching us these tricks.

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.