4 Refraction Ideas to Use In Your Photography


The application of science to photography is a great way of getting creative results with your work. The camera itself is, of course, a product of scientific endeavor. One that brings everyone here to learn more about it. Inside the camera are a series of optics that use refraction to render the image onto your camera sensor, though refraction can be used even more creatively in photography.

To take refraction photographs you will need to find an object that produces this effect, such as a glass ball. The effect happens when light passes through an object of denser mass, and the light is bent as it goes through.

4 Refraction Ideas to Use Your Creativity

Flags such as the Union Jack make great subjects for refraction.

Objects that cause refraction

Any transparent object that has a different mass to air will cause refraction. The most useful objects that refract are those which are spherical. While it’s possible to get refraction through transparent plastic objects, for the best image quality you’ll want to be shooting through glass.

As you can read in my previous article: 7 Tips for Doing Crystal Ball Refraction Photography, glass balls are a favorite for this type of effect, though not everyone has one on hand. There are other objects that you can use for refraction such as; wine glasses, marbles, and water drops.

7 Tips for Doing Crystal Ball Refraction Photography

This photo was taken through the bottom of a drinking glass. The bobbles at the bottom refracted the light.


1 – Refraction using a glass ball

The glass ball is probably the most popular item used in refraction and is what you immediately think of if someone says refraction photography. This is a great piece of extra kit to have in your camera bag and can do wonders for creating a unique looking landscape photo.

The ball can also be good for architecture and even portrait photos if you now how to use it properly. You need to think of the ball as an external fish-eye lens. The ball then needs to be carefully placed on a wall, so it’s elevated to the same level as the object you’re shooting.

7 Tips for Doing Crystal Ball Refraction Photography

The ferris wheel is refracted inside this glass ball, the bokeh shapes compliment the scene well.

2 – Marbles are small glass balls, great for refraction!

A smaller alternative to a glass ball is the marble. Photographing a marble is in many ways the same as photographing its larger counterpart. The key difference is that it’s much smaller, and using a macro lens becomes important. There are a few key points you need to consider when photographing a marble versus a glass ball.

  • The glass may not be as good quality, leading to a poorer image inside the marble.
  • There will be more distortion and a smaller sweet spot where the image is clear.
  • The weight is significantly less making them much easier to carry around.
  • The small size often makes them easier to place on a surface without falling off, they sit in smaller divots.
  • You will need a lens capable of macro photography to best photograph with marbles.
7 Tips for Doing Crystal Ball Refraction Photography

The much smaller size of a marble enables you to place it in otherwise inaccessible locations.

3 – Make a splash with water droplets

A glass ball is not the only medium you can use to create refraction, water makes a great alternative. The key to using water in this way is photographing it as a droplet. There are a few ways to do this, you could try all of them!

  • Water droplet photography – If you’ve never tried this type of photography before I highly recommend it, it’s a lot of fun. Introducing a background image such as a flag will lead to that object being refracted inside the water drop!
  • Tap droplet photography – This is almost identical to the first example, this time you capture the droplet mid-flight. Once again you will want to have a background image behind the water drop. Follow the steps recommended in the water droplet article, and replace the water bag with a tap and voila. Here are some great examples of this type of photo.
7 Tips for Doing Crystal Ball Refraction Photography

These water droplets were placed on glass using a syringe, with the flag of Malaysia is behind them.

  • Naturally occurring water drops – Water drops on spider webs, or on flower petals are spherical, and will therefore refract. So get out there after it’s rained, or if you’re not patient there is always the not so natural watering can or syringe to create your own.
  • CDs and water drops – Placing water drops onto a CD using a syringe will create a great effect. Think of all those mini rainbows! To take this type of image you will need to place water droplets on a CD. Then compose your image, and turn the lights off. Finally, move a flashlight around the CD during a long exposure, doing light painting.
  • Water droplets on glass – This is similar to placing water drops on a CD, but you will use a strobe to light up the scene. Place your water drops onto a glass pane, with your image in the background below it.
7 Tips for Doing Crystal Ball Refraction Photography

The drop of water from a tap is caught mid-flight.

4 – Make that wine glass multi-task!

The real reason wine glasses are round is because they can be used for refraction photography! Okay, they are for wine, but that doesn’t mean photographers can’t use them as well.

The spherical nature of this type of glass means filling them with water will allow you to see a refracted image inside the glass. The wine glass is, of course, better than the glass ball for placing on a flat surface, as it’s not going to roll off. You can use a wine glass in portrait photos as well. In that scenario, the wine glass acts as a great prop, which also shows the refracted image in the background.

7 Tips for Doing Crystal Ball Refraction Photography

This wine glass filled with water shows the effect of refraction.

Get out and give refraction a try

There are multiple ways you can go about starting a series of refraction photos, and this type of photography makes a very interesting project. Let’s see your work if you have taken these types of photos before.

Are there any other refraction type photos you can recommend? Those who have never tried this technique before, give it a go! The community looks forward to seeing your photos, and it could become your project for the year!

The light is refracted through these water droplets when placed on a CD.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Simon Bond is a specialist in creative photography techniques and is well known for his work with a crystal ball. His work has featured in national newspapers and magazines including National Geographic Traveler. With over 8 years of experience in crystal ball photography Simon is the leading figure in this field, get some great tips by downloading his free e-book! Do you want to learn more about crystal ball photography? He has a video course just for you! Use this code to get 20% off: DPS20.

  • It is very helpful and good articles and I like this article. We can easily understand this article because the author did not use tough and bad languages and clearly specifies all the information about the topic. Some articles have not following the correct writing format but here i got new way of writing. I like the way of writing and the presenting. Keep sharing. I will share this article for my friends and colleagues. Flat For Sale in Chandigarh

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  • Von Will

    Thanks for the great tips. For this shot i used a mixture of glycerin and water, I find that the glycerin helps keep the droplet more stable. https://www.flickr.com/photos/phyguy/ https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/bb61f5fb4ac982caa49b951996d005909d63a428e03f7e96ea5937ac9883e118.jpg

  • Day Tooley
  • Simon Bond

    I love these kind of photos with flowers, that’s a great result! Yes I heard adding glycerin helps, and thanks for that tip.

  • Simon Bond

    Cool I like the double image. is that a glass ball rested in the wine glass? Love the creativity, keep it up.

  • Simon Bond

    Thanks Apnaa, I’m glad you liked this article.

  • 21st century is called the period of science and technology. Digital camera is one of the best inventions of the science. Application of the technology in the photography has initiated the new era. This tutorial is mainly concerned with the 4 ideas of your creativity. To take refraction photographs you will need to find an object that produces this effect, such as a glass ball. Thank you very much shearing this tutorial with us.

  • Simon Bond

    Hi Yusuf, I’m glad you took the time to read this tutorial. I hope you’ll have a go at some of the ideas here, and perhaps share your results when you have them.

  • Yeah and thanks for your replay

  • Day Tooley

    Yes. The wine glass is filled with water and the crystal ball sits on top. This article spawned the idea.

  • Simon Bond

    That’s great, I’m glad this article gave you this creative spark.

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  • what a wonderful work i really love photography and after wacting your skills in same i just gone crazy about you great work thanks

  • waynewerner

    A few weeks back the golden light from the sunset was pouring through my window. I noticed a marble sitting on my window and thought it would make for a great shot. I grabbed my extension tubes and stuck it on my Canon T5 with Canon 40mm f/2.8 and cranked down the aperture to get the sunburst.


  • Simon Bond

    Nice photo of the marble, and the sunburst is great.

  • Laura

    Wow! This is a really cool article! I’ll have to find a glass ball and try it!

  • OldPom

    Rafael – please do not clutter up a good website with your nonsense. This is becoming as bad as junk mail and call centre telephone pests. Get real.

  • Simon Bond

    Hi Laura, I hope to see some of your photos when you do!

  • Simon Bond

    Thank you, glad you like this.

  • Moira Lavigillante
  • davesalpha

    I took this last Christmas. Got more that I’ve shot through crystal ball’s. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/153413a65d242f246e9ed30b097741787eeb600127c07e9d2e17aaf51a88c6f8.jpg

  • Contingent upon the camera itself is, obviously, a result of logical attempt you appeared here, The use of science to photography is an incredible method for getting innovative outcomes with your work. Truly you completely properly with your article !! A debt of gratitude is in order for your article,
    Simon Bond !!!

  • Simon Bond

    Love this one, that’s a really great photo.

  • Simon Bond

    Nice photo, the bokeh to the left is especially nice.

  • Simon Bond

    Thanks Irina, really appreciate your kind words. Looking to science and nature to form creative ideas from is a great way to do things. I hope you can apply some of that to your work as well.

  • Much appreciated Simon Bond !!! clearly I should apply some of that in my work.

  • A Glass Marble captured with a Tamron 60mm Macro lens, and the colors red and blue that you see are the colored tape stuck on the flash of my phone below the marble.


  • Abdul Karim

    Great article next time I want more tips.

  • Excellent!!!!!!!!!!!…thank u so much for ur help and the
    tutorial……….great tutorial as always

  • Thanks. Your guidance and tips are important and we appreciate your efforts for sharing this great information.

  • I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise,
    would you mind updating your blog with more information.

  • Really Outstanding post. I love these. It will useful for any new comer and expert guys also. Thanks for your excellent stuff.

  • I love this great tips. This is the creative technique to make awesome reflections on products. This will helpful for the photographers.

  • This is really very creative idea.Thanks for your article which will help me to create one.

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