So, here is Simon’s article on How to use a Lensball for Creative Photography.
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How to use a Lensball for Creative Photography
Some of you may have heard or seen a lensball, or crystal ball, being used for creative photography. As an avid traveler and landscape photographer in particular, I first came across a photo with a lensball featured when I was perusing travel photography on social media. It has since added another dimension to my photography and it’s very versatile so can be used in all types of photography. So, you probably want to know what it is and how to use a lensball?
Think of it as a Lens
A lensball acts as a wide-angle lens and, due to the effect of refraction, an inverted image is seen inside the crystal ball. Refraction occurs when light passes through an object of denser mass; you can observe a similar effect with water as another example. The two elements of the wide-angle and refraction combine to make for some very creative photography. I often look in child-like wonder at lensball photography, the images involved and the innovative ways photographers have found to present the lensball in scenes. The fact that it is essentially an external lens means there is a lot of versatility provided, and you can experiment with various positions based on what suits the scene.
Landscape Photography: Include the Background
Since I live in Australia, I commonly enjoy capturing scenes involving the beach, sunrise/sunsets and other outdoor photography. Often, I will shoot the lensball slightly on the left or right of the scene so a good proportion of the background can be seen. This enables a visual of the inverted image inside the crystal ball to contrast with the scene in the background. Having the subject well-lit is even more integral perhaps than normal as that will reduce reflection as well as have the subject come through clearly in the crystal ball.
In terms of aperture you want to have a balance here as an aperture setting too large will mean the image inside the ball is not sharp enough. On the other hand, an aperture too small will not blur out the background. To start with, try an aperture around f/4 and experiment from there. The setting will ultimately come down to the type of scene. Sometimes, I like to create more bokeh (utilizing a slightly larger aperture, for example) to create a more minimalistic feel. It is not compulsory, but you may want to utilize a macro lens or telephoto lens with macro capability. The macro lens will enable greater proximity to the ball, meaning the bokeh can occur more readily.
How to present or position the lensball is also an element you can be very creative with. There are a number of options such as placing the ball on a wall ledge, having someone hold the ball, using a natural surface such as a tree branch or part of a log, or using a lensball stand which is used specifically to present and hold the lensball. The stand can either be used standalone on a flat surface with the lensball on top or it can also be screwed onto a tripod using a ¼ inch thread.
I like to experiment with scenes with many of the variables mentioned above such as where the lensball is positioned in the scene, the aperture and the proportion of background utilized in the scene versus how prominent the lensball is in the scene.
It is also important to consider environmental and lighting factors such as the time of day and weather. In the case of the sun, for example, these factors will influence where the sun may be positioned in a photo as well as the level of light and where that light is directed. For this reason, I will often do some research, run some test shots, and even sometimes take shots at different times of the day, or return to a scene if the weather is not ideal. So it’s important to not just experiment with different types of photography whether it be landscape, street photography or other types, but also with the specific scenes themselves. This will enable you to better understand how the different variables influence lensball photography in particular, and build your experience with this creative photography.
Other than the common landscape photography, I find street photography to be very fun and appealing in Melbourne as there are so many laneways and artwork to explore in the city here. Interesting graffiti and murals are commonplace so checking these out while presenting them in a different way adds to the creative process. In the above photo you can see how the two halves in the artwork are accentuated by capturing it inside the lensball to create a fish-eye like effect. In this case the lensball needed to be positioned accurately and that took a bit of trial and error.
Now that you’ve been introduced to lensball photography, or perhaps have been given a different perspective on it, I hope that you will consider giving it a go or try some new things with it! The best way is to experiment a lot as mentioned and, if needed, get inspiration from what other photographers are doing. You may find this creative photography helps improve your photographic knowledge and skills, which in turn aids your overall photographic capability. Have fun with it!