Prism Photography Quick Reference Guide

2/20/2018

Prism photography light painting technique
c/o Eric Pare

The web has been buzzing lately with excitement over a new photography technique called prisming, in which photographers and videographers use glass prisms to bend light, glares, and reflections before they enter a camera's lens. It's an incredibly powerful way to control your compositions or make boring situations extraordinary. As Australian wedding photographer Ben Connolly said:

"Photography is getting more and more competitive. To stay on top of the heap, I need to continue developing my artistry with new styles and techniques. Prisming has added a stylistic flare to my images that keeps my clients impressed."

You can place your prism slightly in front of your lens to gently complement a subject that you're capturing or you can place the prism smack-dab in the middle of your lens to create a more abstract, mind-bending effect. Both techniques can create stunning results.

Prism photography model portrait
Prism photography abstract light rainbow
Prism photo flower girl portrait
Prism images shot with Fractals

Photographers love prisming. Why? There's a few reasons:

  • The effects are created directly in camera, with no need for photoshop.

  • Photos taken with prisms (prism photos) are an easy way to amaze a client.

  • Prism photography creates effects which look natural to the eye.

Prism photography also has the distinct advantage of being risk-free. Stylistic, special purpose lenses such as tilt-shifts or those offered by Lensbaby create cool effects, but swapping lenses is an incredible burden during a portrait shoot, or, even worse—a wedding. Wedding professionals have a strong aversion against changing their lenses during a shoot, as the cost of missing a moment mid-lense swap can be disastrous.

In this light, prisms really shine. Putting a prism in front of the lens takes only milliseconds—grab the prism from your pocket and move it in front of the lens. Bam, done, easy. Anticipate an important moment coming up and realize that you don't want it to be a prismed shot? Throw the prism aside in milliseconds, and shoot as you were. With special purpose lenses, you'd be out of luck. By the time you've changed your lens the moment has already passed.

Shooting is difficult as it is, and photographers need tools that make shooting less, not more, complex. The popularity of prisming in recent years will only continue to grow as photographers continue to search out for the techniques that are easy, effective, and—of course—produce beautiful images.

However, all advanced photography techniques come at a cost, and the cost associated with prisming is the investment in learning how to do it properly. People approaching the technique having never tried before should expect it to be like learning something entirely new, with a lot of trial and error. Our community of enthusiasts using Fractals have spent thousands of cumulative hours understanding and perfecting the minutiae in the technique, in hopes that you can jump right in and start prisming professionally right away.

Camera Setup

Do

    Take off your lens hood

    Get your prism as close to your lens as possible! This allows the prism itself to fall out of focus. Don't worry! It won't scratch the front element of your lens.

    Use relase priority

    Shooting through glass can confuse your camera's focus settings and stop your shutter from releasing. Release priority gives you more control.

    Use single-point AF

    Shooting through glass can cause lots of varying focal planes to enter your lens. Pick the one you want to focus on with single point AF.

    Shoot manual or aperture priority

    Above all, you want to have control over your aperture, keeping it (for the most part) wide. Use manual or aperture priority to achieve this.

Don't

    Don't be stiff

    Make sure to wiggle around your prism like crazy! Try moving it and rotating it in every position relative to lens that you can think of for best results!

    Don't use focus priority

    Focus priority will wait for the camera to confirm the lens is in focus before taking an image. Helpful when shooting sports, but not here.

    Don't use multiple-focus points

    When you're prisming you'll have many different focal planes in your field of view. Multiple focus points won't know which to focus on.

    Don't shoot automatic or shutter priority

    These settings may cause your aperture to continuously change—which will give you unpredictable results, as prisming is heavily aperture dependent.


Aperture

Do

    Use wide apertures

    Wide apertures give a shallower depth of field, allowing you to focus more attention on your subjects and less on the glass in front of your camera.

    Change your aperture regularly

    Play with your camera settings rigorously. You'll notice f/1.4 and f/2.8 give greatly different results through prisms. Always be mindful of your aperture.

Don't

    Don't exclusively use narrow apertures

    Narrow apertures brings the glass in front of your camera into focus, which is not what we want. We want to seethrough the glass, not see the glass itself!

    Don't ignore your aperture setting

    One must experiment to learn—and if you shoot exclusively at one aperture, (or ignore it completely), you won't know which setting fits which situation.


Composition

Do

    Use long focal lengths

    Longer focal lengths will cause the images reflected off the prism to come harder into focus. I generally always shoot at 50mm or longer.

    Use your prisms with artificial light

    Artificial light is an absolute treat for prism photographers! When you find artificial light nearby, try to reflect it through the prism into your lens!

Don't

    Don't exclusively use short focal lengths

    Short focal lenghs will work in some situations, but in most cases, it will cause the prism in front of your camera to come too hard into focus.

    Don't use your prisms with dull flat light

    Shooting with prisms outside on cloudy days can make it difficult to find interesting subject matter to reflect from your prism into your lens.


Prisming can be a simple intro into more advanced photographic techniques which can really bring your photographic or videographic work to the next level. To really take full advantage of prisming, though, media enthusiasts should take advantage of prisms that were developed specifically for photo and video production. That's why we created Fractals, which have several advantages which make them better than traditional prisms. If you're interested, you can learn more about Fractals on our homepage.

I'll be periodically updating this guide as I gain more insight or as styles change. If you have any suggestions or other tips, please shoot me an email! If you're interested in prism photography, a popular Facebook group, Prism Photography has a bunch of photographers and videographers discussing and implementing cutting edge techniques. We also invite you to check our some of the amazing images that our community of specialized prism photographers have captured.


Nikk Wong

Published by Nikk Wong

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