Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Crystal Ball Photography

A crystal ball is for more than having your fortune told - read on for some fun and easy photography ideas using a crystal ball!

Where to Buy a Crystal Ball

Crystal balls (or meditation globes, as they are more commonly listed) are inexpensive and available from online retailers like Amazon. The one that I own, and that was used for all the photographs in this article, is the 80mm size and comes with its own tiny holder and case. (As currently listed, it retails for $16.)  At just over 3 inches in diameter, this one is a great size for holding in your hand.

Some people prefer larger sizes, which are a bit easier to photograph: the larger size better fills your image and reflects more of the scene. The 110mm size is the next size up. The downside to the larger crystal ball is its weight and portability. These are solid quartz crystal, which gives them surprising heft for their size. The 110mm size is much more suitable for shooting it in a stand, rather than hand-holding.

The final option is to go a bit smaller, with the 50mm (or 2 inch) size. The smaller size makes it much more portable and easier to carry. It is harder to capture a frame-filling image with the smaller crystal ball, unless you are placing it in a stand and shooting with a zoom lens from further back. I have seen some really unique shots taken with several small crystal balls together.

Techniques for Photographing a Crystal Ball

The easiest way to photograph a crystal ball is to find a place where you can set the ball, leaving both your hands free for photographing. This also gives you the advantage of moving further away and choosing your composition. (I'll talk more about how to successfully shoot while hand-holding in a minute.)

Try to find a place that is elevated, relative to your subject. A crystal ball flips and distorts the scene that is behind it. If you place the ball down on the ground, much of your reflection will simply be the ground. By getting the crystal ball up higher, and by shooting from below it, you emphasize the sky and above-ground features of your subject.

As for settings, you usually want to crisply capture the subject as show inside the crystal ball. I have found that a good mid-range aperture, in the f/8 to f/10 range, works well. In most circumstances, if there is a little distance between the ball and your subject, this will also render the background out-of-focus. If you want the background more in focus and distinguishable, choose a narrower aperture. (The trees, above, were shot at f/11.)

Crystal Ball Composition Suggestions

The benefit of hand-holding the crystal ball while shooting is that you have instant flexibility to choose your subject and choose your relationship to that subject. Moving the ball closer will emphasize the distortion and bending, while moving the ball further away will render the subject in a more realistic manner.

The most difficult aspect of shooting while holding the ball (other than stabilizing your camera while shooting with one hand) is keeping in mind the minimum focusing distance. Every lens has a minimum distance at which it can find focus. If your camera is too close to your crystal ball, then it will be unable to focus anywhere in/on the ball. (I sometimes find myself having to lean away slightly while extending my hand out to its maximum to be able to get the camera to focus.)

Look at your images right-side up and upside down before picking a favorite. Sometimes you may find it more pleasing to have the image within the ball "right-side up," but other times you may prefer to have the crystal ball image inverted, with the background right-side up.

Try experimenting with subjects that have lots of lines. The crystal ball causes interesting distortion effects that become more exaggerated the closer you have the ball to your subject.

Cautions when Photographing a Crystal Ball

The main caution when photographing a crystal ball is to beware of direct sunlight. Like any type of glass or lens, a crystal ball bends sunlight, and you can find yourself unintentionally concentrating that sunlight - perhaps into your camera lens (not great) or onto yourself (ouch!).

I nearly dropped my crystal ball while hand-holding it for a shot, because the sun was located right where its light through the ball became concentrated on my finger!

The other thing to keep in mind is simply to be ready for the weight of the ball. Even with my 80mm crystal ball, if I am carrying it around in my purse or camera bag for too long, the weight can real start to take a toll on my shoulder. Plan ahead, and you shouldn't have any problems.

Do you have a favorite crystal ball shot? Share a link in the comments below!

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