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When I first saw photos using a crystal ball, I thought that some of these shots were very impressive, but also very easy to make. You just have to own a glass ball, throw it in the air and pull the camera shutter, right? Yes, a really stupid concept, which was far from being truth.

To be honest, I envied people who owned this toy called lens ball. So I bought it soon too. I was both excited and annoyed at the same time. The crystal ball met my expectations in terms of creativity in photography. However, it also showed me how naive I was, thinking it was easy to shoot with it! Excellent photos are very difficult to take with a glass ball! Plus, in one of the first photoshoots, I almost lit the forest!

The Crystal Ball Photography Tips – contents:

  1. What is a crystal ball (or lensball)?
  2. How to properly focus on a crystal ball
  3. Finding the right composition
  4. Okay, a bigger crystal ball isn’t always better
  5. How to care for your glass ball with love
  6. Do you know you have a laser gun in your hands? Be careful!
  7. Which photo ball to choose?

What is a crystal ball (or lensball)

Crystal ball, also called lensball, is a glass sphere without any air bubbles. And if you’d just asked – no, it’s not the same thing as the magical oracle ball ? It works like a simple fisheye. When using the crystal ball, you will get a much larger part of the scene in the picture than you’d get with a regular camera lens. However, the image appears upside down (because of refraction – light is bent through the glass sphere). The photography crystal ball is usually packed in a handy travel case, so you can easily attach it to your belt or backpack. These camera crystal balls are produced in different sizes (diameter 50 – 150 mm). The rule here is that the bigger, the better – but I’ll tell you more about the size of crystal ball down below. At the same time, I have to mention that the lensball may differ in quality (K9 glass is the best). Quality can be reflected both in the resulting photo (how clear the view is) and on the fact that the crystal ball soon scratches.


A Crystal Ball during sunset in Divoká Šárka

How to properly focus on a crystal ball

It is a common mistake that people have a poor focus on a lensball. This is because, if we focus on the lensball automatically, the camera focuses on the glass of the ball, not on the “reflection” inside. Therefore, it is always necessary to use manual focus. It is also good to use a low aperture (f/2.8 or smaller) for the effect of smoothly blurred edges of the photo ball and background, while the reflection inside (the scene being shot) will stay sharp. Of course, the same effect can be achieved with a proper zoom lens ?

Finding the right composition for a photo crystal ball

Much more difficult task than you’d expect. For the best results, shoot when there are clear and strong lines in the scene, or if the subject is clearly defined. Such as a free-standing tree on a plain or an architecturally interesting building. It is also good to stand as close as possible to the subject because otherwise, the subject would be too small in the resulting photo and even later crop would not help. Another important thing to consider is the position of the camera relative to the crystal ball – if they are in the same plane, the reflection in the ball will match what you see in the camera (only upside-down plus the captured scene will be much larger due to the fisheye effect). However, if you point the camera towards the lensball from above/below, the content of the displayed scene and perspective itself will change radically. Therefore, in most cases, it is good to have a camera and lensball at the same level. But it’s not a rule! On the contrary, it can sometimes be used to your advantage and get rid of a part of the scene that is not important in the photo.

In practice, you will also find that there are often undesirable objects in the lower or upper part of the ball that you have not noticed at all. Tree branches are a classic example. The more sunny the weather, the more prominent these objects will be. So, before you start setting up a scene, always double-check if it is better to move a few meters further or not.


Sunset view through Crystal Ball in Hvězda Forest

Why a bigger lensball isn’t always better, and what size of a crystal ball to chose

In the beginning, I said that the larger the glass ball, the better, but this is not necessarily always true. Yes, I wouldn’t buy a crystal ball smaller than 80 mm in diameter, but if you want a bigger one, you have to decide whether you want to travel with it or not. Why? Because such glass beauty will weigh more than 1 kg (2-4 pounds)! 80 mm is an ideal limit when the quality of the glass ball is good, and you will not die on the trip just because you have a piece of thick glass in your backpack!

Thanks to the huge weight of the crystal ball, you will soon find out that it is best to leave it on the ground (or in another place such as a tree stump), set up the camera first and then take a picture of the scene. The problem occurs when a ball (or camera) cannot be left on the ground, and there is no other suitable object around you to place the lensball on. At this moment, you will appreciate a mini tripod or tripod-mount! Yes, such accessories are made – look at this stand & mount for your tripod. If you do not have it on the trip, you will probably need a hand from your friend who will have to hold the glass ball for a while – at least he will strengthen his biceps or shoulders, haha ?

 

How to take care of your lensball with love

Even if you buy a photo ball of high-quality glass, it is relatively easy to scratch it (you will often put it on stones, etc.). However, it is not hard to avoid unnecessary failures such as cleaning glass with inappropriate materials. Always treat it as if you were cleaning your camera lens. So use a microfiber cleaning cloth. It costs only a few bucks and it pays off. Or use the microfiber case that you usually get to the ball when you buy it.


Lensball Sunset from Bila Hora
This is how it turns out when you are alone and have a few minutes before the sun sets – I failed to focus on the ball…

Did you know that you have a laser gun in your hands? Be careful!

I joke a little, but not quite ? Never, but never leave the lensball in direct sunlight for more than a few seconds! As soon as you do, the crystal ball will concentrate all the light from the sun, and the high temperature will be produced to one tiny point. If laid on grass, you could cause a fire in a matter of seconds! If it’s in your hand … it’s gonna be hot, haha ? But seriously, I have to admit that my first photoshoot with a crystal ball (yes, it was summer and hot) really scared me. I placed the ball on a tree stump, and the wood started to smoke after a few seconds …

Which photo ball to choose

If you are looking for some creativity in your photos, a glass ball is one of the best and cheapest options to do so. Even if you get tired of the lensball after time, and take it with you only exceptionally, it definitely pays off. Prices do not differ much from the higher-quality crystal balls. If you plan to travel with this glass toy, I recommend buying a photo ball with a diameter of 80 – 90 mm. I would choose a proven classic – LensBall. Glass quality is K9 and you get all accessories (except tripod mount). But if you want to save some bucks, consider this photo crystal ball as well.


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