Crystal Ball Photography tips and tricks

My October creativity project was crystal ball photography, and it was an interesting experiment into what works and what did not. Most of my shots were with the 24-70, as it has the versatility of some close shots and some wide shots. Some things I learned:

Compositionally, you can shoot tightly around the ball, or more wide:

Crystal Ball composition-1 Crystal Ball composition-2

Sometimes it is nice to line up horizon lines:

Crystal Ball View-1

And sometimes you can completely ignore them:

Autumn on the Alpine Loop-1

I personally think either a match or complete mismatch looks better than an almost-but-not-quite match:

Tibble Fork-2

The aperture you choose will make for very different images! You can go for a more abstract background shooting wide open:

Fall Crystal Ball-2

Or a more defined background with a smaller aperture:

Autumn on the Alpine Loop-5

Either way, I find it looks better if the edges of the ball are in focus, and that often takes an aperture of at least f/4 with my camera/lens combo. Here’s one where I didn’t get that and I think it doesn’t look as good:

Crystal Ball Missed edges-1
Focus on the refraction in the ball rather than the background. Here’s one where I tried it the other way around, and I consider it a flop.

Crystal Ball focus flop-1

Sometimes it looks better to flip the image vertically so the glass ball is at the top. I did it with this image, because the background looked more abstract and the refraction makes more sense right side up:

Crystal Ball Vertical flip-1

But this one I chose not to, because there is enough of the background in focus that it made sense to leave it, and I felt my hand looked weird upside down.

Carousel-1

Sometimes it makes sense to flip it horizontally, too. In these images, you can see that flipping horizontally makes the words more readable:

City Library-2
City Library-1

Sometimes holding the ball is the only way to get the composition and refraction you want. But I have found I much prefer images without my hand in them. I haven’t tried using someone else’s hand, but I know I don’t like MY hand in the images as much! I just know that I played with a bunch of different ways of holding my hand and I am not really loving any of them!

 

The thing about spheres is that they like to roll. Often they’ll roll away from you. It helps to find a small crack, divot or corner to put it in:

Mountain Stream-2

 

Or you can create your own on smooth surfaces. I’ve brought clear washers, buttons, a key ring, and sometimes just put some dirt or sand underneath it to prop it in place.

Crystal Ball crack-1 Crystal Ball sand-1 Crystal Ball keyring-1

 

Make sure you polish the ball and don’t leave fingerprints! Sadly, I didn’t notice this one until I got home.

oops Fingerprint-1

And last but certainly not least: The ball can make nice starbursts and flares, but it can also set fire to things! Right after I took this shot, I smelled smoke and realized the wooden handrail was burning! It you look closely there are a few wisps of smoke! Thankfully moving the ball made it stop and I dumped some water on it just in case, no real harm done.

SMOKE-4

Have fun shooting with your crystal ball and don’t set fire to anything!
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