Have you ever tried lens ball photography? It’s a very fun, creative and low cost way of capturing unique and unusual photos wherever you go.
A lens ball is the photography worlds given name to a crystal ball or glass ball. Don’t confuse this with an actual company, called Lensball, who manufacturer the same product – many other companies make lens balls too.
Lens ball photography is where you take photos through the glass ball. The lens ball acts as an external optic in front of your camera lens. Refraction bends the incoming light as it passes through the glass to create a ‘shrunken’ view of the scene behind.
Without going into too much physics refraction is the distortion of light that gets bent as it passes through an object of denser mass.
Have you ever put a bunch of flowers into a glass vase filled with water? The stems appear at a disjointed angle in the water compared to the stems above the waterline – this is the effect of refraction. With a lens ball whatever you are photographing, that scene will appear inside the lens ball inverted – upside down.
There are three different types of lens balls to choose from;
● Crystal – the premium and best quality lens ball with fantastic clarity.
● Glass – probably the most common type of lens ball material.
● Plastic – the cheapest type of material and possibly the worst for clarity.
You can also pick up lens balls in three different sizes too. But which is the best lens ball size for photography?
● 60mm – Small lens balls give you a smaller surface area to focus on which can sometimes be a problem in outdoor conditions. It may require you to shoot with a macro lens for you to get close enough to make it impactful in the shot.
● 80mm – This is probably a better size of lens ball for most photographers. It’s compact without being too heavy and still easy to position.
● 100mm – Larger lens balls are heavy (especially if they are made from crystal or glass) and can be a dead weight in your camera bag if you’re not using it all the time. While they are a bit more stable against strong winds you will need to position the camera back a little further so the ball doesn’t fill the whole of the shot.
Personally speaking, an 80mm crystal or glass ball is probably the best size and type for photographers to play with.
1. Use Manual Focus, not Auto
It’s best to shoot using manual focus and place your focus point on the subject in the ball. Don’t try to focus on the background as the depth of field will render the refraction and the ball out of focus, losing the point of the shot altogether.
2. Shoot at Ball Level
To truly capture the power of the lens ball refraction is to bring the camera down to the same level as the ball. Standing over the top of the ball and shooting downwards won’t show the scene in the ball as well as the background echo.
3. Keep Your Hands Out of the Shot
If you can, unless it’s for particular effect, keep your hands out of your shots. It can look messy, breaks the ‘4th wall’ of photography and, if you’ve shifted your fingers a little before shooting, leave fingerprints on the lens ball reducing the clarity.
Image: Don’t shoot from a raised angle. The effect is redundant.
4. Choose Your Aperture Carefully
As with all types of photography DoF (depth of field dictates how much of your shot will be in focus, and how much won’t be. If you want a nice blurry background behind the lens ball then shoot with an aperture wider than F/4. Alternatively, shoot using F/7.1 or smaller if you want the background scene to be more in focus and representative of what we can see in the lens ball itself. The smaller the aperture, the deeper the depth of field, but beware of diffraction!
5. Long or Short Lenses?
Which is best to use for lens ball photography?
When using longer focal lengths with your lens ball shot you will end up compressing the scene making the background look closer to the foreground and compacting how much the viewer sees in the scene. This is great for isolating the lens ball and the scene within it and nothing else.
If you’d rather show more of the overall scene and the details within the background then a combination of a short focal length (30mm and shorter) and a small aperture will give you such an effect. Look out for leading lines that you can use in the foreground to direct the viewer’s eye towards the eye to the ball.
Image: Get down low and shoot across the surface for a shallower DoF.
Watch this lens ball photography introduction guide to give you an idea on how to frame up your shot, how to focus and what camera settings are best to use.
Just enjoy your lens ball photography. Seek out single subjects rather than busy scenes to include in the ball’s refraction, this makes it easier for your audience to understand the purpose of the shot and it makes the composition easier to decide on.
Bookmark and save this article about lens ball photography so you can find it again in the future. If you’ve got any other questions about photography chances are you’ll find the answers in our other articles and tutorials below.