The Basics



Module 1: The Basics 

It’s important to first learn some fundamentals! Learn how to capture images in your ball, and the mistakes to avoid. This will give you a great introduction to the world of lensball photography, before moving to more advanced topics in our later modules! 

Below the video as per the Course Learning introduction the module is summarized comprehensively. 

Refraction photography can be done through various methods such as a wine glass, marbles, water droplets however the most popular and favorite method is through a crystal ball or lensball! 

Section 1: Science of Refraction (0:00)

Reflection vs Refraction? 

Reflection occurs in a mirror or body of water whereby an image is thrown back to you by a body or surface of light. 

Refraction does not involve throwing the image back but involves light 'passing through' an object of denser mass such as water or crystal in the case of the lensball.

The object is refracting the image behind it. The lensball or crystal ball is spherical which is why you get a perfect upside down image in the glass ball. 

The Basics

External camera lens

The lensball or crystal ball can be thought of a very handy, cost effective external lens which is perhaps the easiest way to think of it in theory. Others like to refer to it as a fish eye lens due to its fish eye effect. 

Section 2: Equipment (3:15) 

What are the Basic Equipments required for lensball photography? 

  1. A DLSR camera or Smartphone - you can probably do more with a DLSR camera with lenses and functionality however you can still get wonderful photos with a Smartphone and all the Smartphone functionality will work with your lensball. Smartphone quality and functionality as you know is continually improving so I'd start with what your more comfortable with and if as assumed you have a Smartphone then experiment with the Smartphone first before moving onto a DLSR camera if you can afford to and would use one for lensball and other photography.  
  2. If you are using a DLSR - Macro, Telephoto and possibly a Wide Angle Lens

Macro lens mounted onto DLSR camera - enables you to get closer to your subject filling a larger part of the photo with the subject in the lensball. It also allows for a fairly large aperture of f 2.8 which allows blurring out of the background. This is called Bokeh and will be covered extensively in later modules. 

Of course, other lenses are possible such as my second favorite lens which is a telephoto lens which will allow zooming into the ball again but allows you to stand further back. 

You can use a wide angle lens which will give you much more of the background behind the lensball however that's one I'd get you to experiment with.  

  1. The Crystal Ball or Lensball

Refractique's 80mm lensball is a great size and the most popular as it enables easy shot taking whilst not being too hefty in weight. 

Some people like the 60mm lensball as its super light and great for where you'll be walking longer distances or for example mountain climbing.

Having both sizes enables excellent versatility of course and you shouldn't need any other sizes unless you’re willing to lug around a very heavy ball for arguably minimal additional benefit. 

Section 3: Background (5:31) 

In a normal shot you will see the lensball with the subject in the lensball and background upside down due to the refraction effect as well as assuming the lensball is not taking up the entire shot you will see the background behind the lensball in its normal state as per any normal photography shot. 

Later, in a future module we will cover editing on your computer where you may like to flip the image in the lensball back round to its normal side (not flipped over) and do a range of other editing and special effects based on what you'd like to achieve - this aspect can be a lot of fun of course as you can significantly change the original photo! 

Aperture (6:28)

An aperture of f-4 or larger will provide a wide angle and help blur out the background (bokeh). This is especially useful when you want to later flip the image in the lensball back over with computer editing. This will alleviate the problem of seemingly having a background which is upside down. 

An alternative is to line up some shapes in the background so they lead up to the crystal ball. For example, if you have an infinity point such as in the case of a group of buildings surrounding the focus point then line it up as displayed in the example photo. 

You can also use the horizon line in the background. Place the horizon line in the middle of the crystal ball shot.

The Basics

The Basics


Section 4: Ball Position (8:45)

Since the lensball is like a fish-eye lens, it will include vast scenic details. If you place the ball on the ground, half the image in the ball will be the ground. So the solution is to alleviate the needless scenic details by elevating the ball.

Elevate the ball off-the-ground so it’s roughly centred or slightly higher than the subject. The ball will show more of your subject.

There are many ways to secure the lensball off-the-ground. You can place it over a rock or a wall. You can even hold it up yourself or ask someone to hold it up for you. You can also consider using a tripod with a lensball stand on top to hold your lensball.

Holding the ball in hand will allow you better control over the position. For example, you can have the horizon line in the middle of the crystal ball shot.

The Basics

Section 5: The Subject (11:27)

The location of the subject in relation to the lensball is crucial. If you use a wide-angle lens to capture the subject without the lensball, you’ll have an appropriate subject for your photograph.

But if you need 60 mm or longer focal length to fill the frame with your subject, you’re too far away to use the lensball effectively. You can’t zoom in with the lensball since it will appear very small within the ball and not effective in your frame.

Larger structures will fill the frame more easily of course. So, get close to the subject with the lensball as zooming into the lensball will not work. You should attempt to fill most of the frame of the lensball with your subject

Section 6: Camera Settings (13:48) 

Camera settings are important for all kind of photography including lensball photography. Your camera setting is a choice in terms of background vs. image sharpness inside the lensball as you’ll learn below

Your main control is going to be the aperture settings. The shutter speed will be an important consideration during the night but less so during the day. The shutter speed needs to be fast enough to keep your photograph sharp.

Although large aperture can blur out the background, the image inside the lensball will be less sharp and the distortions will be more pronounced. The only area of the image which will be particularly sharp is the centre of the ball.

With a small aperture such as f10, f11 or f14, you can achieve a nice sharp image inside the lensball. However, the background will no longer remain blurred. You’ll notice obvious shapes and structures which will give away that the image is upside down.However, you can turn this around in post processing which we will learn about in a later module.

So, you need to play with the aperture settings to find a perfect balance between the background and image sharpness inside the lensball.

Aperture settings examples:

1.)  Aperture f2.8:The background is blurred but the image inside the lensball is less sharp as per what was mentioned above.

2.) Aperture f6.3: The background is less blurred but the image inside the lensball is sharper as compared to aperture 2.8.

3.) Aperture f14: The image inside the lensball is way sharper but the background is more noticeable.

So play around with the aperture based on what you are looking for and the shot you are taking.

Section 7: Stop the Ball Rolling (17:24)

Spherical lensball will easily roll away on a flat surface. So, it’s important to find a position which is not only safe to place the lensball but also effective to capture the subject.

For example, you can look for a natural divot on a rock to place the lensball. Other alternatives could be a lensball holder, a lens-cap, a bottle top, pebbles, keys, or a small tree branch. However, make sure these elements should not appear in the frame.

As mentioned previously, you can also use a tripod with lensball stand or the lensball stand by itself with the lensball as the stand will have a flat base.

Always ensure you have placed the crystal ball safely before taking a shot.

Section 8: The Light (22:59)

To capture an effective image, you need to ensure that the light is shining onto your subject and not the lensball. This will enhance the effect of the refraction in the ball and cut down on reflections that may appear on the ball surface. If the subject is well lit, the image in the lensball will be much clearer.

So make sure that the light is coming from behind you lighting up the subject in front of you for better lensball photography. Taking pictures from a shaded position is a good option.

You can take photographs against the light only if you’re using silhouettes in the frame or for digital blending during post-processing. Otherwise, avoid photographing against the light.

Section 9: Safety and what’s Coming Next (21:34)

Your lensball will help you get a compressed image with a fish-eye effect within the ball which is a unique style of photography. You can’t get this image with any traditional lens. It creates a very unique photograph and the crystal ball with the image inside is particularly magical.However, bear in mind the following safety issues related to lensball.


Lensball Safety issues (23:08)

1.) Heavy Object:Lensball is quite a heavy object. So, be very careful while using it on roof-tops or tall buildings. If it rolls-off the edge, it can cause a lot of damage. If it lands on someone, it can hurt or might even kill that person. Use a lensball stand ideally.

2.) Magnifying lens: Lensball also tend to act as a magnifying glass which can burn things like dry leaves during hot summer days. So, avoid taking photographs in places which are prone to wildfire.

Put your lensball safely in its bag when not in use.


What’s Coming Next (24:38)

You’ll learn a lot more about lensball photography in the following modules/videos:

  • Creating Unique Images with the lensball
  • Portrait Photography with the lensball
  • Still-life Photography with the lensball
  • Post-processing
  • The Floating Ball which is a lot of fun and very innovative!


Thanks for your attention during this first module and I hope you’ve learnt some handy basics! You can now move onto Module 2 Floating Ball!