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The search is always on to try something new in photography. That process is often about taking a technique and applying it in a new way. A crystal ball is a great addition to any landscape photographer’s camera bag. In this article, you’ll see why this is also true for portrait photographers.
You’ll learn to take the perfect crystal ball portrait. There are some special characteristics of refraction photography to consider. You will learn the technical side of refraction photography, and how to use this for your portraits.
Refractions is an effect that is produced when the light is bent upon passing through an object of denser mass. In the case of a crystal ball, this has the effect of inverting the background image inside the ball. This can be great to use for photography, as the ball becomes an external optic for your camera. You can read more about refraction photography in one of my previous articles.
This effect is mostly used for photographing landscapes, as it creates a super wide-angle scene within the glass ball. However, there are occasions you’d use a wide angle lens for portrait work, and the same is true with the crystal ball.
As with all crystal ball photos, try to ensure your subject is well lit, this will enhance the image coming through the ball. If you try to use strobes for this you need to position yourself carefully, the ball will pick up the light from the flash as a reflection very easily. The best advice I can offer is to position the strobes in a parallel line with the glass ball.
Now you know what refraction photography is and how to do it, the next step is to apply this to a portrait.
There are three main types of crystal ball portraits you can make, each uses the ball in a slightly different way. The three types of photo are shooting close to the ball, photographing the ball in the scene, and using the ball as a prop. Let’s take a look at each one.
This composition type has the crystal ball fill the entire frame, or become the dominant part of the frame. In this photo, your model will be the main subject inside the glass ball, which means they’ll need to be quite close to the ball itself. To succeed with this type of photo look at the following points, and apply them to your portraits.
Use a long focal length to hide the model behind the glass ball, essentially eclipsing the model. The larger the glass ball the easier this will be.
The ball should be level, or a little higher than the model. This will avoid distortions on the edge of the ball, and by having the ball higher than the model, it will focus the viewer’s eye more on the face.
The background in a crystal ball photograph can make or break your image. With your model close to the ball, the background is likely to contain some bokeh. Use an appropriate aperture to blur them out, or consider using post-processing to remove them.
A photo of this type is best achieved with a macro lens, or a long telephoto lens. Both these lenses will allow you to fill the frame with the crystal ball, and then it’s simply about avoiding a bad background.
The next option for incorporating the crystal ball into your portrait shoot is to include much more of the background, and make the ball a smaller part of the frame. In this type of photo the focus will be on the ball, but the background bokeh will be equally important in telling the story.
You can also use the ball in the more traditional way, as a prop for your model. In this type of crystal ball portrait your model will be directly interacting with the ball. This will mean that the refraction effect inside the ball may or may not be seen, depending on the way you arrange your photo.
Have you ever tried using a crystal ball in portrait work? Let’s see your results if you have. What difficulties did you encounter when you tried this style?
If you bought the ball primarily for landscape photography, how about trying your hand at a portrait? Give it a go and let us know how it turns out.
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