photography & digital art

how to: prism photography

Coming at you with a guide for prism photography today! Fun times! I’ve been meaning to do this for ages but I finally got around to it! guide: prism photography by Jessica Andersdotterguide: prism photography by Jessica Andersdotterguide: prism photography by Jessica Andersdotterguide: prism photography by Jessica AndersdotterSo photography was my main creative outlet for years, but I kind of grew tired of it a few years ago. And then I discovered prism photography, and it’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had with a camera! I think I discovered it when I read a post like this about Sam Hurd.

I started out by using a simple plastic prism we had in our Christmas tree, so anything works really, but the quality might not be that great. You can see those pictures here.

guide: prism photography by Jessica AndersdotterThe prism I’ve mainly been using is this one. It’s a glass optical prism, and I have no idea what they’re actually for, but I think mine costed 5-10 dollars on eBay. It’s always filled with fingerprints (note to self: don’t use as a murder weapon) but it works good all the same.

So here’s the big secret: hold the prism in front of your lens! 

I usually hold it with the long side running parallel to the glass of the lens, if you get what I mean? So if you’re looking at your camera from above the prism is running like a parallel line along the camera, not sticking out of it creating a T-shape.

guide: prism photography by Jessica Andersdotter

There are two main effects you can achieve with this technique:

1. Distortion with “rainbows”

Like in the image above, you can get this distorted blurry rainbow party in a part of your picture. You have to experiment, but basically you get this look by holding the prism with one of the pointy ends toward the camera. Still running parallel with the camera though.

guide: prism photography by Jessica Andersdotter2. Reflections

This looks kind of like half of a double exposure. The three smooth sides of this prism can in some angles work as mirrors, and if you hold it in front of the lens you get a reflection of either what is to the side of you, above you or whatever way that part of the prism is facing.

Keep in mind that you can get effects where these two effects are combined. guide: prism photography by Jessica Andersdotter

A few problems you may encounter:

1. You can’t control it.

This problem isn’t actually really solvable with this technique – the uncontrollable character is just a natural part of. And I really like that about it, but I’ve always been a big fan of not fully being in control of the result.

Solution: Use your face as support for the camera, and rest the prism onto the front of the plastic parts of the lens (not the actual glass parts if they’re exposed on your lens?? are they ever?? idk).

2. It looks different in the viewfinder than in the picture.

The distortion transfers differently to the viewfinder than it does straight through to the sensor when the shutter goes off. I don’t know why. It might be something with the mirrors!

Solution: Use live view if you have it. Note that the problem with this solution is a loss of stability, unless you’re using a tripod. I get a lot of stability when taking pictures by resting the camera on my face. (If you’re shooting on film you’re just going to have to guess.)

guide: prism photography by Jessica Andersdotter3. The edges of the reflections are too sharp.

This comes down to focal depth and/or the lens you’re using.

Solution: Try a wider aperture (lower number). I’ve mostly used f1.8 actually! The image above was shot with f7.1, and it’s still cool but I prefer the ones where the edge between the prisms reflection and the regular picture is smoother!

4. The image is “too messy”.

This all comes down to the shape and nature of your prism. If you found some gigantic multifaceted diamond there might simply be too many reflections and distortions. This is a matter of taste though, so it’s up to you.

Solution: Get a prism with fewer facets/sides.

guide: prism photography by Jessica Andersdotterguide: prism photography by Jessica AndersdotterLastly: experiment!

What this technique is mostly about is experimenting. Twist and turn the prism as much as you want, and when it looks good – take a picture. Or just keep taking pictures randomly. I’ve told you the tricks I’ve worked out, but this is mostly about learning by doing.

I hope this helped you and made you excited about trying it! Because I highly recommend trying out prism photography! It can look really cool on portraits as well, I just never take pictures of people because of my crippling social anxiety. :)

Also, there are actually Fractal Filters now (they hadn’t been released yet when I started I think) that are filters made specifically for prism photography, so they have handles and different shapes. They cost like 100 dollars though, so it might be an idea to start with a 10 dollar prism from eBay!

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1 Comment

  • Reply Annelie Komorowska 19 April, 2017 at 09:50

    Vet du! Tänkte på dig och dina prismafoton senast igår!! Superbra guide <3

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