How to Create a Kaleidoscope and Make Unique Abstract Images

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Struggling to remain creative

I’ve recently been struggling to shoot creative images and found myself in a rut battling to see things with fresh eyes. As I needed to come up with a topic for my next article (this one!), I decided to take this as an opportunity to experiment and come up with some new ways to shoot abstract images.

How to Create a Kaleidoscope and Make Unique Abstract Images

Here’s one of the images I took using the kaleidoscope I made. I processed this image in Analog Efex.

Inspiration can come from anywhere

I decided to focus on abstract images since they seem to be speaking to me lately. The challenge became to create unique abstracts and have fun at the same time. Well, I happened to come across this video on the web. I was looking for a craft to create with my son, and the idea sprang from there.

The Construction Details

How to Create a Kaleidoscope and Make Unique Abstract Images

Here’s the finished Kaleidoscope. It’s a pretty simple design.

I decided to adapt this idea and create something I could use with my DSLR. I went to my local home renovation store purchased a mirror and had them cut it into three sections. My mirrors are 16cm wide by 31cm long. I chose this size so that my wide angle lens could fit inside the kaleidoscope opening. I didn’t want any of the outer edge included in my images.

Clear packing tape was used to attach the mirrors forming a triangle. I then taped three pieces of cardboard around the outside of the mirrors. This was done to protect my hands from the sharp edges of the glass.

How to Create a Kaleidoscope and Make Unique Abstract Images

Here’s a top view. You can see that it was a pretty rough tape job.

You could certainly choose to attach more mirrors together if you want. The important thing to remember is that you always want to use an uneven number of mirrors so that the shape is more conducive to creating abstracts. The look of the image you shoot will change with the size and number the mirrors you use. Have fun and experiment.

How to Create a Kaleidoscope and Make Unique Abstract Images

I used both my Canon 5D with a wide angle lens and my phone. Note that this technique doesn’t work with a telephoto lens.

Now it’s time to have fun and play

After constructing my kaleidoscope, it was time to start experimenting. I immediately thought of trying to photograph some flowers. My idea was to place a bright bloom on a black background. I was curious about what types of images I could create.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature wouldn’t cooperate. We had a massive snowstorm, and I was stuck in my house with no chance to purchase some flowers. So it was time to experiment with other items. I found some square pieces of felt sitting around my house and decided to try using them. Here are the results.

How to Create a Kaleidoscope and Make Unique Abstract Images

Here you can see how I set up the kaleidoscope with some pieces of felt underneath it.

How to Create a Kaleidoscope and Make Unique Abstract Images

I again took this image into Analog Efex for editing.

As you can see, my kaleidoscope created some rather interesting designs and shapes. It was a lot of fun to see what types of designs could be created. I used several different items in front of the mirrors. I tried fabric, tinfoil, camera lenses and even Lego toys.

People photos

After experimenting with so many different materials, it was time to try it with people. My son was willing to have his photo taken. Here are the results. He spent a few minutes giggling at the images. It would be interesting to see what a larger kaleidoscope and mirrors might do to portraits like this.

How to Create a Kaleidoscope and Make Unique Abstract Images

It’s an interesting effect. My son loved messing around with it.

I then experimented with photos of a good friend. These images were shot through the kaleidoscope from images projected on my computer screen. They were taken from different Facebook photos. It was a lot of fun, and he was certainly entertained by the results as much as I was. I truly appreciate him allowing me to post the results here on the web. Thanks, Ali.

How to Create a Kaleidoscope and Make Unique Abstract Images

He was hesitant at first to let me post this but we had a lot of fun messing around with the image. There’s a little bit of banding from the computer screen but oh well we were just having fun.

Drawbacks of the experiment

One of the things I noticed as I shot was the very fuzzy and slightly darker reflections. That bothers me. Parts of the image that contained the original piece of fabric were much brighter and sharper than the reflections. I found the effect to be quite displeasing. So, I need to experiment more with the kaleidoscope to try and alleviate that.

Perhaps a light shining from above might change this effect, it is something I will consider for the future. As you can see from this experiment, I used a very rough and simple set up. It was put together quite quickly. In the future, it would be beneficial to try several different methods for positioning the kaleidoscope and my camera. You will note that I used both my DSLR and my cell phone for these shots. I used the Lightroom mobile App as it allowed me to use some pretty specific manual controls.

How to Create a Kaleidoscope and Make Unique Abstract Images

I used my phone for several of the shots.

Things learned from this experiment

This whole activity was very insightful. It was well worth the afternoon I spent creating and shooting. It has sparked my curiosity. As a result, I created a list of questions that can be used to further the project and inspire more creative shooting.

  1. What types of objects look best when shot with a kaleidoscope?
  2. How can post-processing change the look and feel of these abstract images?
  3. What would be the effect of a larger kaleidoscope?
  4. What would happen if I added much smaller sections of mirrors to a kaleidoscope?

There’s so much more that I can learn from this exercise. It feels like just the surface has been scratched. The use of mirrors for creating interesting abstracts is now on my list of projects. If you’ve experimented with different techniques, tell us about it. Share your experiments good or bad. There’s so much to learn. There’s also a lot of fun to be had during that experimentation. Perhaps as I perfect this technique, I will produce a further article that will contain my lessons learned. But for now, I hope my afternoon of tinkering will inspire you to try new ways of creating images.

How to Create a Kaleidoscope and Make Unique Abstract Images

This is a shot taken from my computer screen through the kaleidoscope.

How to Create a Kaleidoscope and Make Unique Abstract Images

I used black velvet and an old lens from my film camera for this shot. I think this one is my favorite images.

There’s so much to learn. There’s also a lot of fun to be had during the experimentation phase. Perhaps as I perfect this technique, I will produce a further article that will contain my lessons learned. But for now, I hope my afternoon of tinkering will inspire you to try new ways of creating images.

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Erin Fitzgibbon

is a freelance photographer, writer, and teacher, from Ontario, Canada. She specialises in portrait, sport, and fine art photography. In her free time, she escapes to the backcountry or the beach with her family.

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  • Doug Sundseth

    To get a better reflection in a kaleidoscope, use front-surface (also called “first-surface”) mirrors. If there’s glass (or whatever) in front of the primary reflecting surface, you’ll get blurring and dimming as shown here. If you’re really careful, it’s possible to build such mirrors with reflective mylar or metal tape, but getting real mirrors is generally much easier.

    Note that the same sorts of mirrors are useful if you want to shoot products on a reflecting surface, and for the same reasons.

  • Erin Fitzgibbon

    Wow awesome. Thanks for the information Doug. So glad you chimed in with the advice. Thank you.

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  • Tom Stocks

    I made a kaleidoscope by cutting the mirror pieces to fit inside a 4″ piece of Black PVC pipe the using an adapter to neck-down to use my 50mm lens on my Canon 30D. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/dd019ecb772993746f119b6b8a285aca9d78ffcf788b7f01c6da681c5c95e4f1.jpg

  • Erin Fitzgibbon

    That’s a beautiful image. Thanks so much for sharing your method. I love the look.

  • Tom Stocks

    Thank You Erin, I also welded a hex nut to a door handle and used hose clamps to attach that to the kalideoscope to allow for mounting on a tripod.

  • Erin Fitzgibbon

    Wow! ok! I need one of those. Great job Tom

  • Tom Stocks

    You are absolutely right. Get busy and make one, LOL. Tom

  • Erin Fitzgibbon

    :)))

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