What is crystal ball photography?
Crystal ball, or lensball, photography is a creative technique that uses a glass ball to take an inverted image. The ball acts as an external lens that approximates the look of a fish-eye lens with distorted edges and a panoramic angle of view. “As the light passes through from one side to the other, it inverts your image and distorts it, which gives you a different perspective,” says photographer Kevin Vierra.
Although the technique is often referred to as crystal ball photography, most lensballs are actually made of glass. Keep this handy photography accessory in your camera bag to effortlessly transform all kinds of scenes.
Refraction photography and crystal balls.
Refraction refers to light bending as it passes through an object of denser mass. Whether you know it or not, you’ve probably already experimented with refraction photography if you’ve ever used a DSLR camera.
Crystal ball photography is a type of refraction photography. The image you see when you look through a lensball is upside down because that’s how a spherical shape bends light. The same phenomenon happens with DSLR lenses, due to their structure of concave and convex spherical elements.
Pick the right crystal ball or lensball.
When and where to use your crystal ball.
How to set up your lensball.
Get an assistant.
Use a lensball stand.
Make your own stand.
Finally, you can use your surroundings to get creative with your placement. One of Vierra’s most memorable shots was taken with the crystal ball in an ice cream cone, refracting a Ferris wheel. “I’ve set mine on a rock or a stone wall, in a tree, in the sand on the beach,” adds Chase. “There’s really no set spot to put your lens.”
How to get crystal-clear shots.
Lensball photography is one of the rare cases where manual focus is easier to work with than autofocus. “You want the focus to be on the very center of the ball,” says Vierra. “The wider the aperture, the better. A lot of people don’t like to go much higher than f/4. I go all the way to f/1.4 or f/2.8, depending on what lenses I have. I like a blurry background with bokeh better because it really sucks you into the center of your image.”
Any focal length or type of lens will work with crystal balls — even your iPhone can take decent shots — but if you want to get really close to the glass, you’ll want a macro lens. If you want to be able to see the background and the scene around the lensball, go with a wide-angle lens.
Know your light source.
Work your magic in post-processing.
You don’t have to nail your shot in-camera. In crystal ball photography, experimentation and surreal effects are expected and even celebrated. Push your creativity with photo editing tools like Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Lightroom and find out what's possible. You can remove your hand or the lensball stand in Photoshop, for example, for a floating ball effect, flip the upside-down image so it’s right side up, or colorize the lensball to make it contrast with the background.
Photo by Kevin Vierra
Get the (lens)ball rolling.
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