If you’re in the midst of experiencing a little photographer’s block, trying a new type of photography can help get your creative juices flowing again. Maybe all you need to do is try taking a peek into the future with crystal ball photography. Crystal balls have a rich history, and their use in photography is a relatively new concept. 

Keep reading to learn more about what this type of photography is as well as how to use it to take great pictures on your own. 

Crystal Ball Photography: What It Is and How You Can Do It Too

Photographers might also call this technique glass-ball photography, rabbit-holes, or even lens ball photography, but regardless of what you name them, the method with the lens and balls is the same. This type of photography works by taking a glass ball and letting refraction occur. 

The glass ball is your medium, and the image you want to distort should be behind the ball. For instance, photographers frequently use a landscape in the background, an interesting piece of architecture, or even a portrait with their crystal ball. 

The good news is that it doesn’t take an expert or tons of expensive equipment to create the crystal ball effect. As long as you have a glass ball, a camera, a lens, and a good subject, you can produce plenty of high-quality photos. 

beach pier

How Does Crystal Ball Photography Work Exactly?

When light passes through an object with denser or greater mass, it “bends” the light and distorts the image, creating something that scientists call refraction. It’s a wave passing from one medium to the next. If you’ve ever placed a pencil inside of a glass of water, you’ve seen refraction in action. You haven’t bent the pencil, but inside the glass, it appears that way. 

Photographers can get a similar effect by putting water inside of a wine glass. Since the wine glass, like a glass ball, is spherical, it creates an inversion of the image too. If you want to practice crystal ball photography before investing in your own ball, you can always try using a wine glass first. 

Most crystal balls you’ll encounter will use K9 glass, which will appear to be a “denser” mass than the subject you’re using in the picture. 

Refraction Photography vs. a Standard Landscape

Many of the locations or subjects that make high-quality creative crystal ball photos and refraction photography also make interesting standard landscape photos too. Some people might wonder why they should bother using a crystal ball when they can get a similar image by using a wide-angle shot. Here are a few reasons why refraction and crystal ball photography might be the right (or wrong) choice for you

The Pros of Refraction Photography

  • You can change the position of the ball to fit your scene better and make better crystal ball photos
  • The crystal balls often create a more natural “frame” for the rest of your photo
  • Refraction can give your photo an artsier feel 
  • Crystal balls tend to be cheaper than using a fisheye lens
  • Great for creating a minimalist photo

The Cons of Refraction Photography

  • Your photo in the crystal ball will be upside-down
  • You’ll need a macro lens
  • A crystal ball can be inconvenient to carry around 
  • There will be distortion on the edge of the ball along with the upside-down photo
  • It can be difficult to get a clear photo inside of the ball
  • You might need to clean the crystal ball once in a while

What Should You Photograph With a Crystal Ball?

You don’t have to limit crystal ball photography to one specific type of subject even a lot of subjects. However, some subjects do work better than others. Think about these tips: 

crystal ball reflecting trees

Interesting Architecture

Architecture is another popular choice. With bold, leading lines or patterns that repeat themselves, crystal ball photography can accentuate a lot of interesting buildings or sculptures. Depending on the piece of architecture you’re trying to capture, the lines you use in the building can “lead” to the ball. 

Different Landscapes

Probably the most common subject for photographers to use with a crystal ball is a landscape. There are a lot of different choices out there.There are two challenging aspects to using a landscape. Not only do you need to find a location that would look good with a wide-angle shot, but you’ll need to place the crystal ball in the right place to get the effect you want. 

Getting the right shot can be a little time-consuming, and require you to move crystal balls around a few times.

Portraits of People or Animals

Portraits aren’t always the first choice of subjects when it comes to crystal ball photography, but they can create interesting photos. For portraits, it’s usually a good idea to use a plain or blurred background so that it doesn’t draw attention away from the model or the crystal ball. If there’s no way around a busy background, you can always blur it out using a bokeh effect. 

Where to Position Your Crystal Ball?

One of the trickiest parts of this type of photography is finding where to put your ball or crystal balls. If it’s not in the right spot, your image could end up looking like a jumbled mess rather than an artistic shot. Here are a few tips to follow: 

  • Reflection Pools – If you don’t want your image to appear upside down in the ball, a reflection pool can solve the problem. When you use a pool, the upside-down image will “correct” itself and appear the right way. You can either place the ball inside of the pool if it isn’t too deep or uses a position that displays the pool’s reflection.
  • Natural Divots – A natural divot, such as a tree branch, rock, or even root can be a spot for you to place the ball without it rolling away. 
  • Fence or Wall – Using a wall or a fence, if you can find a place to put the ball, can give you a better advantage since you’re higher off the ground. 
reflective ball with colored lights

Challenges You May Encounter

Whenever you attempt to do crystal ball photography, there might be a few safety hazards or technical issues you’ll have to overcome in order to get the right shot. Here’s what you should think about when it comes to safety tips:

It’s a Potential Fire Hazard

The idea that your glass ball could also be a fire hazard might seem odd to some people. However, just like a magnifying glass, your crystal ball has the potential to start a fire if you store it in the wrong place.

For instance, keeping your crystal ball out in the direct sunlight during the day could end in a fire. If you have a large sock or a bag, these items can hold your crystal ball easily and keep things from getting dangerous. 

Watch For Rolling

One of the biggest challenges you can have with a crystal ball is that it’s likely to roll away. Unless you find a secure spot or natural divot to place it in, it might start rolling away before you’ve even finished getting the shot. 

Equipment For Crystal Ball Photography and Photography Tips

Before you start dreaming up the perfect locations for your crystal ball shoot, it’s important to make sure you have all the right equipment first. While crystal ball photography doesn’t require tons of pricey equipment, there are still a few things you’ll need. 

A Camera Body + Macro Lens

Besides the crystal ball, you’ll require a camera body, macro lens, and a camera bag to carry them in. These objects, excluding the camera bag, will help you get the effect that you want as well as blur the background so you can focus on the subject. 

Crystal Ball 

The obvious piece of equipment, besides the camera, is the crystal ball. Without a glass ball, you won’t be able to create the refraction effect that you want. There are plenty of different sizes that you can pick from as well as colors.

Keep in mind that, the smaller your ball is, the more you’ll distort the image. If you want something that ends up looking more clear, you’ll need to invest in a larger crystal ball and find some way to hold the ball. 

Other Useful Equipment

While these items aren’t necessary for every crystal ball photo, they can come in handy. 

  • Wide-angle lens – For those wider shots and landscape photos, a wide-angle lens is essential. 
  • Tripod If you don’t have a great place to put your crystal ball, a tripod might be the only thing that can hold it steady while you get the shot. You’ll want to make sure the head of your tripod is flat.
  • A wine glass that is full of water – If a crystal ball doesn’t seem to work out, you can always try using a wine glass full of water. The effect you’ll get is similar. 


Now that you’ve got an idea of how to execute crystal ball photography, it might be time to head outside and try it! Don’t forget to consider key factors such as the ball size of your crystal ball, where you position it, and what kind of subject you want to capture.

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