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Introduction to Glass Ball Photography

Updated: Oct 23, 2021

One of the coolest trends of the past few years has to be glass ball photography. Using a cool circular glass ball, you can dream up all kinds of fun and fantastic images. Hey! It’s Rachel with Rachel Z Photography, your San Francisco, California photography guide, and today I wanted to take a quick introduction to glass ball photography.

What is Glass Ball Photography?

Glass ball photography, also known as crystal ball photography, uses refraction to capture unique images. A crystal ball (lens ball) is placed in front of a scene; the scene is then refracted in the ball. Thanks to the magic of physics, you end up with an inverted image in the ball, which you can then capture with your camera.

As the photographer, you have ultimate control over your lens ball image. For instance, by repositioning the ball (and by repositioning the camera regarding the ball), you’ll capture different perspectives. You can also adjust the aperture for shallow depth of field effects (where the ball is framed by a blurry background), and you can change the distance from the camera to the ball for an interesting close-up effect.


Equal Level with Your Subject

It might tempt to put your glass ball on the ground and shoot into it, but this will actually cause significant distortion, plus it will create less compositional impact.

Instead, I recommend getting your ball up off the ground and on a level with your subject. The key here is to ensure your subject is centered in the ball, so move the setup around until you get the composition, you’re after.

Note that you’ll want to keep your hands out of the frame, so you can either get up close and only photograph part of the ball, or you can perch the ball on an elevated platform, like a rock, a car, or a bench.

Of course, there are exceptions to this advice. Sometimes, it pays to place the ball on the ground, especially if you plan to photograph puddles or leaf beds.


Which Lens?

Yes, you can do glass ball photography with literally any lens, from ultra-wide to super-telephoto. But if you want to maximize the impact of the ball, I’d really recommend using a macro lens (or a telephoto lens with significant close-focusing capabilities).

Thanks to a macro lens, you can get close to the ball, which does two things:

  1. It lets you increase the size of the ball in your shot (you can get close for lots of detail).

  2. It helps you create a strong background bokeh, which is key if you want to flip the image and keep it natural looking.

A wide-angle lens can work, too, but only if the scene allows it. I recommend experimenting with a macro lens and a wide-angle lens to determine the effect you like best.


Lighting

Pretty much every photo can benefit from a well-lit subject, but it’s especially important for crystal ball photography.

Why? A strongly lit subject will shine through the ball while minimizing reflections. Yes, those pesky reflections that come from in front of the ball and can show unwanted elements such as the camera lens!

That’s why I recommend you photograph with the sun behind you and striking your subject directly. Alternatively, you can photograph during the blue hour or at night, but aim to photograph buildings with brightly lit facades.

Reflections can create interesting effects, so don’t be afraid to try out different lighting scenarios if you’re feeling creative.


About Rachel Z Photography

I’m a 29-year-old San Francisco-based photographer, activist, tattoo enthusiast, and guardian of 2 lovely rescued birds. I adore doing portrait photography for others, whether that’s indoors or outdoors, covered in flowers and nature or covered in fake blood. My goal with my photography is to empower you by taking the essence of who you are and turning it into works of art. I want to hear what YOUR ideas are and help make them into a reality. I want you to feel powerful. I want you to feel beautiful. I want you to feel confident, because we all deserve that.

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