Adding extra creativity to your photography usually comes in the form of learning a new technique, or perhaps buying a new camera lens. In this article, you’ll learn how you can achieve both of those things with lensball photography.
Read on to find out what is a lensball and how you can use it to add more creativity into your photographs.
What is a lensball?
Lensball is simply the rebranding of a crystal ball or glass ball, which has then been marketed to photographers. It is also a company brand name – Lensball.
Many photographers have bought into this product now, even at the slightly higher price compared to a regular crystal ball. You can do this kind of photography with either product.
What is lensball photography?
Lensball photography is the act of taking a photograph through a glass ball also called a lensball. The name is a good description because it acts as an external lens optic. The ball uses refraction to bend the light as it passes through the glass, which is of denser mass than air.
The lensball acts as a natural frame to capture the scene directly behind it, albeit upside down. The effective focal length of the lensball is similar to that of a fisheye lens.
How does refraction work?
Refraction is the distortion of light that gets bent as it passes through an object of denser mass.
The simplest way to see this in action is to place a pen in a half-filled glass of water. The pen will appear to be “thicker” in the lower section of the glass where the water sits.
With a glass object, the light passes through it and switches sides as it does so. This leads to an upside-down image within the Lensball.
This is also the science behind your regular camera lenses.
A series of concave and convex elements render an image onto your camera sensor or film. If you don’t believe me, take one of your lenses and remove both the front and rear cap and look through it and see for yourself.
You may not know it, but you’re already a refraction photographer!
Which size lensball should you get?
The lensball is available in two sizes. One of the most common questions I get asked about this genre of photography is, “What size should I get?”. The short answer for most situations is the larger one.
The following are the two size options you have for lensballs:
- 60mm – The smaller of the two sizes is more like a large marble. It’s good because it’s pocket size, and is not that heavy. It’s also easier to place it in a small nook or cranny. The downside is the sweet spot for focus is smaller, leading to a more distorted image inside the ball.
- 80mm – This size is the main product from most lensball companies. Large enough to get a great image within the ball, and not so large that it becomes a heavy burden for you to carry around. If you’re starting out with lensball photography you should use this size.
There are plenty of other options for refraction photographers that are not marketed specifically as a lensball. There is a good case for using one of these instead of the name brand ones. However, as mentioned the 80mm lensball is the optimum size for most photographers getting started.
100mm Glass balls
Most of the images in this article were taken with a 100mm glass ball. Well before lensballs were a thing, the larger 100mm ball was the size of choice.
If you’re prepared to carry around a larger, heavier ball the quality of image you can create inside the larger piece of glass is better.
Colored glass balls
The option of using different colored glass for increased creativity is also another reason to shop away from the two main lensball companies. Although the clear glass does give you more options for your photography.
These are the smallest and least expensive glass balls of all! The image quality, however, is debatable and you’ll need a macro lens to compose close enough to the marble to make it workable and worthwhile doing.
A novel alternative to a glass ball is a wine glass. Of course you’ll need to fill it with water, but the spherical shape of the glass, when filled with liquid, will also produce an inverted image.
Where to get a lensball
When you’re ready to buy a crystal ball for lensball photography you have several options.
Many people go right to the established lensball companies and enjoy the branding and other products those companies offer. But their wares are not the cheapest options though, and you could choose to use another vendor.
The established companies
There are quite a few companies selling lensballs online today. The two biggest of these are Refractique and Lensball.
What you get from these companies for the extra money you spend on their products include the following:
- Quality – These companies use the gold standard of glass, otherwise known as K9 glass. Other vendors may or may not use this higher quality glass, but you can be sure that Lensball and Refractique do.
- Community – Lenbsball has an active community for lensball photography. However, you don’t have to buy from lensball themselves to participate in the community, any glass ball will work.
- Packaging – These companies pride themselves on the branding and packaging that goes with the ball. The boxes do look good and could be used for display purposes.
- Other products – You can buy a clear glass stand, a helpful product that will add to your photo. They also offer a tripod mount, which is functional but needs to be edited out later if you want your final photo to look good.
Shopping on Amazon
There are lots of options to buy crystal or glass balls on Amazon, usually purchased by people who want a nice paperweight on their desk.
But those can be used for photography as well. A simple search on Amazon will bring you plenty of options.
NOTE: We’ve created a handy shopping list on Amazon to help you get started, just CLICK HERE.
A local market
The final option is to buy one from an independent trader at a local market. In some parts of the world this might be easier than others.
There are plenty of options to buy lensballs at a market if you happen to live in Asia, for example.
What kind of photos can you take with a lensball?
Now you know what a lensball is, the next question you may ask is how do you use it?
The answer is you can use it like any other lens, for all forms of photography. It’s up to you to creatively apply this unique lens to your work. Here are a few ideas.
Landscapes – The most obvious application for lensballs is landscape photography. The fisheye-like scene captured inside the ball lends itself very well to this genre. Although there is certainly skill required to find the correct location to place the ball.
Portraits – Capturing someone inside the glass ball is a great way to create a unique portrait. There are a few tips and tricks to this and it takes a bit of practice. But it can certainly be an extra string to your portrait photography bow.
Still life photos – You can create some excellent images with a lensball when it comes to still life photography. Among the best are light paintings, taken with the lensball placed on a sheet of glass.
Now is the time for you to try lensball photography!
Now that you know what a lensball is, and what you can do with it – it’s time for you to try it yourself! Even if you’re restricted to indoor photography, it’s great fun to use for still life work.
There is no better time to try out this genre of photography, so how about bending the light in your photos! Please share your lensball photos, comments, and questions in the Disqus comment area below.