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How to use a crystal ball in photography

How to use a crystal ball in photography
how to use a crystal ball in photography

Have you ever seen photographs with a crystal ball like the one above? You definitely had, and for sure using a crystal ball in photography is not a complicated matter. But neither simple for the best results.

To use a crystal ball in photography we have to keep in mind a few main aspects like setting your camera on aperture mode, using manual focus and a medium telephoto lens.

A crystal ball is actually a glass ball you can find it chiefly anywhere on the internet for sale, used in photography to get the fisheye effect while everything else is out of focus.

The photographs I took for this post are taken with a cheap photography crystal ball, I think I got it around £25 from Amazon, although the rating for it is quite high, I find some flaws compared to more professional ones.

As an instance, my photography crystal ball I own does not have any anti-reflective layers and does induce a lot of chromatic aberration with the image becoming unclear on the edges of it.

But let’s not talk about my product. I am not advertising this or affiliate it. I want to talk in general how to use a crystal ball in photography and what tips to follow for the best results.

Tips on how to use a crystal ball in photography.

  • The first tip I want to share with you is the necessity to use the Aperture mode on your camera.

When you use the aperture mode on your camera to take photographs with a crystal ball, you basically have total control over the depth of field.

If the depth of field is too shallow due to large aperture, part of the crystal ball will become out of focus, which we are trying to avoid it. If this is too narrow, the depth of field would be too visible and giving you a clear image of the photograph being upside down, outside of the crystal ball effect.

This is proportionate with the focal length of your lens and the focus distance.

My photographs are taken with my Tamron 24-70mm (at about 70mm) mounted on Nikon D750, with the crystal ball on an aperture of f/10 – f/12. As we mentioned, if the aperture is too wide, most of the crystal ball edges would be out of focus.

But let’s not relate this directly to that. You can take outstanding artistic photographs even with the aperture of f/5 or wider.

You have to think creatively if you want to take some special photographs while the crystal ball edges are out of focus

  • The focal length of your lens. The need for a medium telephoto lens.

The above images are a comparison between 24mm and 70mm on a full-frame camera. It is more than obvious that on 70mm the crystal ball looks way much beter than on the first photograph as taken on 24mm wide.

Not only that on my 70mm I have a shallower depth of field, but is presenting some nice bokeh and if I would have to flip the image (we will talk about this later on the post), this becomes less obvious than the first photograph.

What about how to photograph a crystal ball with a lens with longer focal distance, like 105mm? I’ve tried that with my sigma 105mm but my arm at maximum length will get my hand out of frame, although the crystal ball remains in it. The images taken were not the most pleasured ones, but:

If you are looking to place the crystal ball on a surface, you can use any telephoto lenses because all you have to do is just move back away from the ball. How to photograph with, let’s say, 500mm? Oh, that’s another story (sorry, I did not had the chance to try it yet)

Every lens is different. Some others have a minimum focus distance shorter or greater than other lenses, but what do all have in common? the manual focus

Let’s first talk a little bit about manual focus and why it’s important to use it when photographing crystal balls?

Whenever you (or at least me) use the autofocus on a crystal ball, the camera will never focus as it should. This is due to the diffraction of the light which passes through the crystal ball. Even if you manage to focus, you will notice that the focus can be slightly … out of focus.

The way that I do is to set my camera on manual focus and focus on a specific distance (e.g. my arm’s length or so) and whenever I am using the crystal ball to focus through it, I just move the ball up and forth to get the proper focus.

Here you will have to keep in mind the minimum focus distance of your lens related to the focal distance. As for an instance, on my Tamron 24 – 70mm, the minimum focus distance is 0.35m.

Any greater than that can go over the length of your arm, therefore you will be kinda unable to take crystal ball photographs with the ball handheld. Unless you are having really long arms, like in the image illustrated below:

How to use a crystal ball in photography

Or maybe you can use a selfie stick 🙂 Nop, that won’t work…

All right, enough with the jokes. What I mean to say is that unless you are using a macro lens, I would recommend having set manual focus on the minimum focus distance and leave it like that.

But this can’t be exclusive on the type of lens you are using. If you are using a macro lens, maybe you need a micro-crystal ball? Argh! :-/

  • Ensure that you do not have any source of lights behind you. This can induce unnecessary reflections on your photograph like in the image posted below. (click to zoom)
Reflection is seen in the crystal globe. How to use a crystal ball in photography
Reflection is seen in the crystal globe.
  • Also, think of taking night photographs with a crystal ball, plus think about long exposures images such as taking light trail photographs

To explore this a little bit more, consider the fact that in the case of taking light trail or long exposure photography, you cannot take them with the globe handheld. Therefore, I recommend it putting it on a surface like the street in front of your camera. You should have also been provided with your globe a glass holder or something similar, to put your globe on it, to avoid scratching it.

Use the same settings as taking a normal photograph except the shutter speed which you set accordingly to the long exposure scene you want to take the photograph (e.g. 10 seconds)

By doing this you may be able to photograph the light trails of the cars on the street through the globe with a lovely distortion. I cannot provide you with a real example photograph, but I will do it in the near future.

Ideas on how to use the crystal ball in photography

This is directly related to your creative style. There can be unlimited uses of a crystal ball in photography, that’s for sure.

But what I do not recommend is taking photographs to a scene where obviously should not be flipped upside down.

Talking more about that, when you usually take photographs through the crystal ball, the images seen in the ball are upside down.

In this case, there are two obvious actions:

  • Let the image as it is. If you are taking a seaside photo or a landscape where you can see the line of the horizon both in the image and through the crystal ball, you have to really think: how the image will look better? flipped or normal?

If you flip the image, what you see through the ball is clearly as it is in reality, but everything else related to the depth of field would be flipped over. This can cause unpleasure for the viewer.

Of course that in this case, I would strongly recommend you to leave the image as it is, therefore what you will see through the globe will be upside down but the image itself will be fine.

  • This is of course unless you know a bit of post-processing and you know how to mask the photo itself, as on the image below, choose to flip it upside down
crystal ball photograph flipped upside down.

Explaining a bit the above image, it is flipped upside down, as you see the hand. But due to the shallow depth-of-field and the fact that I took this photograph in shade, this allowed me to mask it, even more, therefore my hand is just a silhouette and everything else cannot be identified other than what you see through the globe.

Therefore, the photo seen through the globe looks as normal with a fish-eye effect. Or a magic wizardry globe. You pick.

Post-processing the photographs in Lightroom.

You don’t need photoshop to obtain a great image. You can use it, of course, as many photographers would prefer to do the basic photo editing in photoshop rather than Lightroom, but that’s not me.

I always like a bit of retouching in Lightroom. In this case, there are a few things which can be done to improve the photograph itself.

  • One of the most important ones to mention is increasing the texture.

If you slide the texture up in Lightroom on your image to about 50-80 you will notice that the image seen through the globe will get a lovely texture and focus, whilst this is having a minimum impact on the shallow depth of field.

  • This can be helped with a slight increase in the clarity

If you increase the clarity, you will notice even more that the shallow depth of field is affected by it, but leaving that aside, a slight increase in the clarity can have a more positive impact on the image seen through the crystal ball than a negative impact seen on the depth of field.

  • Adjusting your highlights, shadows, and colours.

This is more like a standard post-processing technique which every photo should get through. You may need to correct a bit the highlights, the shadows or even the colors.

  • Further, increase the sharpening under “details”

Like on any photos, if you increase the sharpening, the image becomes more sharp, obvious. When you tend to do that, just watch over the depth of field not to be affected too much.

Advanced tips to post-process the image in Lightroom

There are not so advanced techniques, but I would like to get you through to mask a bit the depth of field, your hand, probably make it black and white and let the crystal globe get all the attention.

I had written before an article about spot color photography. Although this is not an exact spot colour photograph, still, the same techniques we are going to use.

Let’s get a bit through it, shall we?

If you follow my blog, you may notice that I love creating mixed photographs of black and white + colour, or spot colour photographs, as the above ones.

I am going to follow you through to obtain the same results. It is relatively easy. (maybe a youtube tutorial will follow in the future).

How to create a mixed colour & black and white photograph of a crystal globe in Lightroom

In Lightroom, select the radial filter (SHIFT + M) and make a circle on the portion of the image you want to make it black in white. Make sure all the settings from the right panel remain the same on 0, but saturation slide it down to -100 and go down and tick the box ‘INVERT‘.

After you have done that, go back up and select BRUSH, and add brush (B) with all the values of 100 (feather, flow, density) except the size. The size you can change with the mouse scroll as more or less, depending on your needs.

Under your image, you can tick ” show selected mask overlay” just for aids purposes. I usually check to see if there are any spots uncovered.

You can zoom in to your image 1:1 for more accurate masking and try to masks elements and scenes you don’t want to be in colour (such as everything but the crystal ball).

You can use the same method to add shadows, change exposure or highlights and even more for a specific part of the photograph.

Of course, not every photographer will be agreeing with me but some images do look better like this.

Where to use crystal globe images?

Don’t get me wrong, crystal globe photographs do overlook amazing and knowing how to use a crystal ball in photography will add up your gallery of images.

But it is pretty much unlikely that you will have those type of images added to your main portfolio unless you are really good at it.

Practice and more practice, and then maybe will do. But until then, let me tell you something: PEOPLE LOVE CRYSTAL GLOBE PHOTOGRAPHS

Although there is a chance that you will not see prints hanging on the walls of crystal globes, you will definitely see a huge reaction on social media.

Yes. In social media, Instagram in special, posting those crystal globe photographs will spike out the reaction of your followers. And to be honest, as a photographer, this can add up a huge followers list.

Cautions and the maintenance of a crystal globe while using in photography

Sunburns! Ugly and dangerous sunburns resulted from the sun rays going through the crystal globe like through a magnifier.

In the beginning, I used to carry it in hand and whenever the sun rays were going through the globe, the sun focuses on my palms burning me.

I strongly recommend, unless the forecast is predicting to be cloudy, do not carry the globe directly in your hand. Also, be cautious when you are taking photographs through the crystal ball whilst the sun is getting through. I also recommend doing it in the shade.

And be aware when leaving the globe outdoors on direct sunlight, it can start a fire.

When carrying it, make sure you either carry it on a soft pocket or in the original box provided. Alternatively, you can carry it in hand wrapped in a soft cloth, like those ones you use to clean your lenses. But be careful as this can slide and you may drop it.

Speaking about dropping it, the globe is kinda heavy. Ensure that you are aware of this because it can break in pieces if you do drop it.

When cleaning the globe, ensure that you are using a soft cloth to avoid scratching it. Store it in the original box provided.

Also, what I do is usually wipe it before every use to avoid blurry images due to fingerprints.

Sweet&Love my camera! Conclusion!

how to use a crystal ball in photography
Crystal ball photograph taken by myself.

As I’ve mentioned above, there can be unlimited uses of a crystal ball in photography. How to use a crystal ball in photography? Everything in my best knowledge should be covered throughout the post.

I am glad you had the chance to read over my article. I hope there are some values you added up from it.

If you do not have one, you can buy a crystal ball from Amazon or eBay.

I wish you all the best in the future and feel free to leave any comments below. Take care, my friend.

Morefore, I would like to share with you a few other amazing tutorials I wrote in photography, below:

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