A New Life for That Trusty Lens-ball (in times of Covid)

It’s mid 2021, humanity is in the midst of a world-wide pandemic and while some territories have finally begun opening up, many others are still reeling. Safety measures/travel restrictions imply that outdoor photography is in a deep dark slump, the deepest it’s possibly ever been. This also means that that already all-too-often neglected 60mm crystal ball that sits somewhere on the back shelf or deep in that ‘other camera bag’ is even more of a useless paperweight right now..

EnterOrb-Trancing

.. “The technique of capturing LED or ‘projection-rendered’ light sources refracted through an optically refined crystal ball.”

Here is a crash course in what is arguably the most fun I’ve personally had shooting anything in so so long.

What you’ll need

The first and most obvious ingredient is the lens-ball/crystal ball itself. If you don’t already own one, I suggest doing a little bit of homework before purchasing as they come in various sizes and optical quality. Sizes range anywhere from 40mm to 100mm in diameter.

When it comes to quality, you can save yourself the anxiety of buying something tragic by simply opting for a branded product like Lensball for a premium...
Otherwise, if you do go with an unbranded ball, listings will typically say “photo” or “photo quality” glass/crystal ball while referring to balls suitable for use in photography.
I’m pretty satisfied with the image I get from my unbranded ball(pictured), but I’m almost completely sure they messed up the size by about 20mm.

The other obvious ingredient is your camera, this can be any type of photography camera from dslr/dslm to medium format to a point n’ shoot. What’s more important is the lens or lens system and that this system is able to deliver a few crucial things. This is where things can get intermediate…

The ideal lens for this type of lens-ball work would have a medium focal length of about 50mm with a fast aperture (f/1.8) and a short minimum focus distance around a 1' — 1' 6".
This represents most nifty 50s that are cheaply available but I will put in special mention to the Helios 44s.

The remaining ingredients represent your media source and a dark room. This is what sets this particular type of glass ball photography on its own. I opted for my 40" Hitachi flat-panel plugged into my computer. “The bigger” the image wont always represent “the better” but you’ll at least want a rendered image that can fill the ball at an appropriate distance.
-A dark room is important for minimizing unwanted reflections and maintaining strong contrast within the photo.

The fun begins when you’ve chosen your source-material and you’re ready to begin.

Visualizations

Your choice of light-source-content greatly affects the outcome of your shoot but not in ways you’re always able to predict(unless you actually want to).

I suggest getting your feet wet by pulling up already made visual sequences online. Try searching kaleidoscope or dance visuals on Youtube.

When you’re ready to break off and inject some custom source material, try filming your own videos then use the mirror effect within an editing software like Adobe Premier or DaVinci Resolve to add reflective segments/repeats.

Put those pocket LED lights back to use, get creative!

When trancing with video as a source

As the traditional challenges of lens-ball shooting are still very much present in orb-trancing, these are a couple tricks to keep in mind when in a session.

Don’t be afraid to make the source video not video:
Remember, you’ll be balancing exposure and focus along with spatial composition. Don’t be hesitant to hit the pause button, compose, expose and move on.

Don’t be afraid to record video:
If your camera permits(and does so graciously), it may be extremely worthwhile to normalize grabbing stills from recorded footage. In fact, the first photo of this story ‘Love Tesseract’ is a still grab!

Good luck! I won’t need to remind you to have fun.

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Tristan John

Tristan John

Sound and light wizard from the Caribbean 🌴 🇹🇹