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How to Make Creative Photos with Prism Photography

1 - How to Make Creative Photos with Prism Photography

This image is a creative street photo. The overpasses lead the eye towards the image within the prism.

Taking photos has many facets to it, and getting these right gives you a successful photo. A key element is how you use the light, and in this article, you’re going to learn how to split the light! Using a prism in your photography can give you new possibilities, and is another way of utilizing refraction in your photography. So, read on to find out about prism photography, how to make rainbows, and create beautiful photos that look like multiple exposures!

What does a prism do to the light?

A prism is a glass object and is therefore subject to the effect of refraction. The light is bent as it passes through the prism, creating several effects that you can use in photography. You can’t use it in the same way as a crystal ball, which works like an external lens optic and inverts the background image within the ball. However, there are two ways you can use the prism.

  • Project a rainbow – The prism, and it’s triangular shape, acts to split the light, and reveals the different wavelengths of light in the form of a rainbow. That means you can use a prism to create a rainbow, that you can photograph within your scene.
  • Redirect the light – Light can get dramatically redirected as it passes through the prism. That means when you look through the prism it’s possible to see the scene that’s at a 90-degree angle to the side of you. This factor gives the possibility of creating double exposure like images with a single frame.
2 - How to Make Creative Photos with Prism Photography

You can clearly see the rainbow light from the Prism. Also visible are the shards of light emitted from different angles to the direction of the sun.

Prism photography for making rainbows

An excellent way for you to use the prism is making rainbows. The larger the prism you have, the larger the rainbow becomes. The other way to increase the size is by increasing the distance between the prism, and the surface you are projecting the rainbow onto. The catch with increasing the distance is the rainbow light becomes more diffused and less intense. You also need to pay attention to how high the sun is in the sky. This is because the angle the sunlight hits the prism effects the angle of the projected rainbow. It is easier to project the rainbow onto the ground during midday when the sun is high in the sky. To project the rainbow more horizontally aim to photograph when the sun is lower in the sky, after sunrise, and before sunset.

The rainbow as a detail photo

Rainbow light is colorful, and when projected onto a surface this can make for a beautiful photo. Look for a surface that has a neutral color such as gray or white. A surface that has some nice surface texture may add more interest to your photo. Now twist the prism until you’re able to see the rainbow projected onto the surface you’re photographing. It’s possible to take the photo while holding both the prism and the camera. If you have a friend to help hold the prism, your results can be improved. As this is a detail photo, using a macro lens for this type of photo is better, but you may find other interesting compositions by using another lens.

3 - How to Make Creative Photos with Prism Photography

It’s possible to create your own rainbow using a prism.

The rainbow with portrait photography

Undoubtedly one of the most popular forms of prism photography involves projecting a rainbow onto someone’s face. The rainbow you project won’t be large, and it would be best if another person held the prism. The small size of the rainbow means a head shot would work well. A play on David Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’ portrait is a good starting place in which to start. You’ll want to set this up as a standard portrait, so use a prime lens for this photo. Ideally, you’ll want to blur the background through the use of a large aperture.

Three images in one frame

The other way to use the prism bares similarities to using a glass ball. This time you’ll be shooting through the glass, at images that appear inside it. Hold up the prism, and twist it. You’ll notice how you can see images inside this glass. These images are not those directly ahead of you though. Also, depending on how you twist the glass, you may see one or two images. It’s these images you can work with to make a unique multi-exposure type image, with a single click of the shutter.

The choice of lens

The best lenses for prism photography are a wide-angle lens and a macro lens. Unless you’re lucky and have a friend to hold the prism, you need to hold the prism and photograph through it at the same time.

  • Wide-angle lens – Allows you to bring the background image more into the photo. However, the prism edge becomes more prominent in the frame. It won’t be as easy to blur out with the aperture available on most wide angle lenses.
  • Macro lens – The majority of prism photography is carried out using a macro lens. This lens lets you focus close to the prism, allowing you to avoid capturing your hand in the frame. The transition from background to the image within the prism is also harder to spot.
4 - How to Make Creative Photos with Prism Photography

This image uses a macro lens with the prism, and looks like an optical illusion

Aperture for prism photography

The aperture you use for these type of photos are mostly dependent on what you want to do with the background, and how sharp you want the image within the prism. A large aperture of f/2.8 or bigger certainly works to blur out the background. The majority of photos need that background though, to achieve the multiple exposure feel. That means an aperture of around f/8 is the right balance between a background with detail and avoiding the prism having too sharp a line in transition to the background.

The background image

A prism has a fairly small width, and even with a macro lens, the background is a high proportion of the frame. So what works as a background for this type of photo? Primarily, you’re looking to avoid it being too busy.

  • Leading lines – A background that draws attention to the images inside the prism is an effective use of the background. This might be a tunnel, or perhaps a road disappearing to infinity.
  • Texture background – More of a blank canvas for the images within the prism to sit against. It might be a brick wall, or perhaps leaves and flowers.
  • Symmetry – As your image gets split down the middle by the prism, using symmetry either side of this split is an effective strategy.
5 - How to Make Creative Photos with Prism Photography

The use of background symmetry can be effective with a prism.

The image in the glass

Now the tricky part – getting a good image within the prism. The images from the prism can be at 90-degrees to the way you’re facing, or perhaps 60-degrees and to the side and front of where you’re standing. Incorporating this into your composed background is the challenging aspect of prism photography.

  • Composition – You already have a good composition for your background. You now need to keep that good background composition, while simultaneously adding a point of interest that’s well composed within the prism. Use trial and error. Twist and change the angle of the prism. You can also walk backward and forward to compose the image within the prism.
  • Adding a model – An easier way to add interest to the image in the prism is to make this a portrait photo. The advantage here is you can ask the model to stand in the exact position from which refracted light is coming through the prism.
6 - How to Make Creative Photos with Prism Photography

Adding a model to this image made for an interesting cherry blossom portrait photo.

Using fractals

Fractals are yet another item that uses refraction in photography. They produce prism-like effects but aren’t in themselves a triangular-shaped prism. Working as a handheld filter, you can photograph through them without worrying about images being at 90-degrees to you. It’s often used to make creative portrait photos with soft edges. It can equally be used to make a more abstract looking photo.

Time to go and split the light!

If you are looking to try something different with your photography, you’ll love the prism. It’s a little challenging to photograph with, but that’s what makes it fun. Have you ever tried prism photography? We’d love to hear your thoughts, and see your photos in the comments section below. So, now it’s time to get hold of a prism, and go out and experiment with it!

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Simon Bond
Simon Bond

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

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