Lensball Photography: What to Know & How to Nail It

Lensballs are an exciting way to add more creativity to your photography. These perfectly spherical glass balls produce a distinct fisheye view of the world and have become a staple tool in many photographers’ artistic portfolios over the years. There’s more involved than just sticking one in front of your lens, though, so we take a look at some tips and tricks for nailing lensball photography. 

Safety first

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Before we even take our first photo, we have to stop and address an important safety measure with lensball photography. Remember the mean kids from recess who would fry ants with a magnifying glass in the sun? Your lensball will produce the same effect — but much more amplified. Leaving a lensball in bright, direct sunlight can cause a fire, so it is imperative that you never leave it unattended. The lensball can also become very hot after sitting in the sun, so be careful to test the temperature before picking it up again. 

Lensballs shatter very easily if you drop since they’re glass. So be sure to handle yours with care at all times. It’s a good idea to keep it in a safety pouch whenever you’re not working and make sure it’s not going to roll away when you step back to take your photo. Especially when shooting on uneven terrain or in the wind! 

Lenses and camera settings

lensball photography
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The best lenses to use in lensball photography are macro lenses, as you are concentrating on a relatively small object. Many smartphones have macro-lens attachments, so you can achieve lensball photography with traditional cameras and with your phone. 

You can also shoot with a wide-angle lens to capture the ball and the full scale of the environment around it. But you’ll need to get really close to the lensball to do this — and that might include lying on the ground! Make sure you’re adequately dressed. 

The best way to get that classic lensball effect is by shooting at a lower aperture, thus achieving a wider depth of field and a blurred background. This effect will make the image inside the lensball pop out to the viewer, as there will be fewer distractions on the periphery. 

Framing, composition, and choosing your background

lensball photography
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A great way to check whether the background you have in mind will be good for your lensball is by first taking a test shot with a wide-angle lens, as this is the effect you will be imitating. Some backgrounds are just too far in the distance and barely show up in the lensball, so choose something reasonably close to you. 

Get as close to the lensball as possible — again, this is why a macro lens will be your best choice. Since the image inside the lensball will be a lot smaller than just shooting the scene by itself, you want the lensball to fill the frame. If you can’t get too close due to your lens, don’t panic — you can always crop in on the image during editing. 

You can either choose to hold the lensball in one hand while you shoot (or have a friend hold it) or place the lensball somewhere in the scene and shoot without any hands in the frame. Holding the lensball will give the viewer a sense of scale, whereas putting the lensball somewhere in the environment will allow you to incorporate other foreground images to add to the photograph’s overall composition. This can include placing the lensball on a rock or tree stump or directly in front of an architectural element, such as an attractive mosaic floor in the foreground. 

Remember that the image inside the lensball flips as well. Experiment with different compositions and different angles of view while setting up, and let the scenery guide you towards the image you like best. 

Creative uses

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There are many creative ways to use the lensball. Try shooting at night with fairy lights, steel wool, candles, or other artistic methods of illumination, and notice how they interact with the glass elements. Shooting at night is also a fun way to photograph cityscapes. But remember: you’ll be shooting at a wide aperture, so best to go out with a tripod! 

Experiment with long-exposure photography, or conversely, capturing motion with a faster shutter speed, such as an animal running on the other side of the lensball or a wave crashing on the beach. Experiment with reflections in puddles after a rainstorm. You can also shoot through the lensball to look at a person or pet. 

Flip your image in editing to make the lensball look like the “right side up” appearance and the rest of the world look upside-down. This could be a fascinating effect if you had the lensball perched on something distinct in the foreground, such as a rocky ledge. When flipped, it will look like the lensball is magically dangling in the air, like an overlarge raindrop. 

Find ways to incorporate abstract concepts into your lensball photography, such as photographing textures, lights, or patterns. 

Editing

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Flip your image in editing to make the lensball look like the “right side up” appearance and the rest of the world look upside-down. This could be a fascinating effect if you had the lensball perched on something distinct in the foreground, such as a rocky ledge. When flipped, it will look like the lensball is magically dangling in the air, like an overlarge raindrop. 

If you don’t like having one part of the image upside down, you can also select the lensball within your editing software and rotate it so that both it and the background are right-side-up. 

This is also the time to crop in on the lensball to get rid of distracting background noise. 

Sometimes in lensball photography, you will notice that reflections appear too bright in the image. You can bring down these harsh highlights during your editing and bring up the shadows to create a more even image. 

Choosing your lensball 

lensball photography
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Lensballs come in a variety of sizes, including 60mm, 80mm, and 100mm. Remember that these are solid objects you’re buying and can often weigh as much as a zoom lens! 

The larger the lensball, the better the quality of the image and the bigger canvas you’re working with. There are also lensballs in different colors, which you might choose for a greater range of creative options. Shooting through a colored lensball heightens the sense of contrast between the image and the scene beyond. 

Fingerprints, smudges, and reflections

The lensball’s ultra-wide-angle effect is great for capturing all the world around it. And that can include you! To avoid getting yourself in the reflection, ensure to study the image inside the lensball carefully. If you see yourself, you may have to set the camera on a timer or use a shutter release and hide somewhere well out of the way. 

Smudges and fingerprints can also ruin the magic of your lensball photograph, so be sure to bring a good microfiber lens cloth with you at all times. 

Where to get a lensball

lensball photography
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There are quite a few companies selling lensballs these days, including the brand Lensball. Depending on where you are in the world, the best way to find one is to check out your local camera store and ask for recommendations or search for something online. You may also be able to pick up a second-hand lensball through local markets, although you will want to check it thoroughly for scratches before purchasing. 

Get out and experiment

With your lensball purchased and your camera fully charged, it’s time to get out and start experimenting. Lensballs are a great way to bring new depth and creativity into your work, and after some practice, you’ll be well on your way to producing incredible images to add to your portfolio. Take note of these tips and tricks, and you’ll be nailing lensball photography in no time! 

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