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How to capture mesmerising glass ball photos

A glass ball may seem like a strange thing to keep in your kit bag, but it can be used to incredible effect – here’s how.

If you were to reel off all the photographic essentials, we don’t doubt a glass ball would be bottom of the list, and we can’t blame you – it’s anything but essential. So why try it at all? Because photography is all about trying new things and finding new ways to frame the world, that’s why.

Quirky techniques such as shooting through a glass ball – known to some as lensball photography – are perfect refreshers for the uninspired photographer. As a quick search will reveal, you can pick one up for less than £10, which isn’t a steep price to pay for some much-needed variety. Even otherwise boring scenes can be improved with a new perspective.

Here, shooting through a glass ball elevated this landscape from ordinary to eye-catching (credit: Andrea Togni)

What you’ll need

First and foremost, you’ll need a glass or crystal ball. They’re easily found, and as we said, inexpensive. You’ll also need something to cover and clean it with, as any marks will be very visible. Finally, you’ll need to find a means to hold it in frame.

Holding it in your hand is a popular choice, but balancing it atop a tripod or supporting it with natural objects from within your scene, such as sticks or stones, can also be done. We’d advise being careful here, not only to avoid shattering your ball, either – if left in sunlight, glass or crystal becomes a fire hazard.

Hands are a common feature of lensball photography, and can be used to add an extra dynamic to a photo (credit: Dawid Zawila)

When it comes to lens choice, there are, as always, a number of options, and all are worth experimenting with. With a longer lens, getting a soft background will be easier, which is good if you want your ball to be the real focal point of the photo. On the other hand, a wide-angle lens allows a wider context to be shown.

As for aperture, it’s a good idea to go for a nice middle ground. Go too wide and focusing accurately within the ball will become an almost impossible task.

Glass ball photography tips

You really don’t need much to get out there and give glass ball photography a try. When you do, here are a few things to keep in mind.

First up, a simple tip, but a practical one. You’ll need to position your ball much closer to the subject than you might think. The field of view of a sphere is much greater than that of most lenses, and if you’ve had any experience with an extreme wide-angle, you’ll know what we’re talking about.

The second step to clear and pleasing glass ball photography is avoiding reflections, so that’s our second tip. If the light is coming from behind you – also known as front lighting – you’ll likely have to position yourself carefully. When possible, we’d advise side or back lighting.

Our next tip is all about perspective. The distorting effect of a glass ball can be used to do one of two things – make an object appear larger, or make it appear smaller. This is primarily determined by the object’s closeness to the ball. You can magnify a small object such as these frosty blades of grass, or you can fit a whole scene within the palm of your hand, as seen here.

One question you’ll have to ask yourself is: how do you want your glass ball to appear? Do you want it to dominate the frame or serve as one of a number of focal points? There’s no right or wrong answers and different choices will work within different scenes.

Here, the glass ball is just one feature of the photo, used to draw the eye to the foreground (credit: Helena Cook)

We’ve saved the best until last. As you may have noticed, the refraction taking place causes the image within the glass ball to flip. If you combine this with some symmetry within the frame, the results are spectacular, and your photo instantly goes from ordinary horizon to dramatic inverted world.

The perfect symmetry, the shallow depth-of-field and the wonderful exposure of this shot illustrate just how far glass ball photography can be taken (credit: Ayanna Johnson)

So, have we convinced you to invest in an unusual new addition to your camera bag? If so, show us the results! Tag us in your photos on social media using the handle @photonewspn.

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