Need to add a little imaginative flair to your photography? Trying out lensball photography may spark some creativity. Innocent looking enough, these little orbs are capable of bending light to produce astounding images.
So…What is a Lensball?
In short, a lensball is exactly what it sounds like – a glass orb capable of forming images via refracted light. The term “lensball” is a genericized trademark, as Lensball is the company most well known for producing these crystal balls. Refractique is another reliable resource many lensball photographers turn to.
In the context of this article, we’re using the term “lensball” to cover any glass sphere suitable for photographic use. Even glass sold without photographers specifically in mind can produce awesome results.
How Does it Work?
As many photographers already know, the light that bounces off any given subject refracts as it passes through the glass of a camera lens. The distance between the lens glass and the internal sensor is measured such that the light focuses on the surface of the sensor. Sensors then measure the exposed light and convert that into image data.
As this all happens inside of our cameras, we don’t generally get to see the process in action. But the lensball employs the same basic physics to create images.
Like the lens, light refracts as it passes through the crystal ball. That light focuses on the surface, providing a crisp, upside-down view of subjects. Of course, when you’re taking photographs, the entirety of your frame likely isn’t consumed by the lensball. Therefore, the light that does not go through the ball (but remains in your camera’s field of vision) continues to pass through the lens as usual.
It can be a bit difficult to visualize the process, but the diagram above should help! The black lines represent the direction of passing light. But how exactly does all of this translate to a photograph?
What Does Lensball Photography Look Like?
There’s no one way to go about lensball photography – every individual develops their own style and techniques. We’ve found just a few examples of what you can accomplish with this unassuming tool.
Landscape photography in particular lends itself well to the lensball. Though the ball itself is small, light passing through creates a sort of fisheye effect. This allows you to capture rather sprawling vistas within the confines of the glass.
At the very least, it’s a creative way to capture views in a way that breaks the norm. Whether it’s a notable piece of architecture or a breathtaking view, lensball photography can help set your shots apart from the crowd.
Related Article: The Best Landscape Photography Courses of 2020
Create Surreal Scenes
The crystal ball itself has captured the intrigue of people since the 1st century. The object is often associated with fortune-tellers and clairvoyance. Perfect circles rarely occur in nature. Combine all that with the bending of light the lensball is capable of and you have a recipe for some dreamlike imagery.
Even the most straightforward shots gain an air of mystery when a lensball is involved. For instance, the image below clearly shows a blue ocean along a rocky shore. However, there’s something peculiar and precarious about the reflection smack-bang in the middle of the shot.
With a low aperture, it’s easier to stray even further from the conventional. The field of flowers surrounding this ball becomes an explosion of color as shapes and details are bent distorted.
Capture Fine Details
You don’t have to relegate yourself to strictly landscapes with a lensball. On the other side of the spectrum, it makes for an interesting prop in just about any still life scenario.
Rather than holding the ball out in a hand or on a stand, try resting it on an interesting surface or among some intriguing objects. Though details along the ball’s edges are likely to warp, blending shapes and colors can add an interesting flair without any effort.
The lensball is also an excellent tool for creating abstract imagery. Play around with textures, colored strobes, or whatever you’re able to get your hands on. Open up your aperture and make your environment completely unrecognizable.
Between the ball’s fisheye view and the upside-down projection, you’ll capture captivating results.
Related Article: The Ultimate Guide to Macro Photography
Lensball Tips and Tricks
Not sure where to start with lensball photography? There are a few more things you should know before diving in:
- You don’t have to shop brand name. However, you should take care to order a ball that uses K9 glass. It’s the gold standard for just about any lensball. Its high optical clarity makes for clearer images void of impurities.
- In this case, size matters. The larger the ball, the more detail and less distortion you’re going to capture in your refraction.
- Make an effort to find a sturdy base. One of the greatest challenges to lensball photography is finding stable ground to secure the ball while maintaining good composition.
- If you want to give this technique a shot without committing to a purchase, you can attain similar refraction with a marble or a glass full of water. They won’t deliver nearly the same level of image quality. But experimenting with them could be helpful in gauging your interest in moving forward.
- Keep the ball itself out of direct sunlight to avoid distracting glares, flares, and reflections.
- Use a microfiber cloth to keep the ball clean without risking scratches.
- The further you’re positioned from the ball, the crisper your image will be. Getting close may help eliminate distracting background details from your photos.
Give Lensball Photography a Shot!
Sure, lensball photography may be a novelty. But sometimes trying out something new is the best way to get inspired. What’s more, it helps photographers better understand the processes going on inside of their own cameras.
This little glass ball may not seem like much to the common passerby. But, in the right hands, they’re more than capable of making magic.