What's Happening in My World of Photography

Crystal Ball Photography Tips


In my ongoing quest to find new and interesting ways to create an interesting photographic composition, I stumbled upon crystal ball photography.  I’m sure that many of you have stumbled upon these unusual and intriguing images, and let me tell you from experience that while the photos look deceivingly difficult to capture, the technique is actually quite easy and quite fun.  Best of all, by adding this tool to your arsenal, you will once again be forced to look at the world around you with a different artistic vision, and that can do nothing but improve your skills as a photographer!

The idea is fairly simple.  You get yourself a crystal ball and you use a wide aperture (how wide will depend upon what you are going for in terms of your artistic vision) to capture the scene that is projected from your backdrop into the crystal.  It is quite amazing how tack sharp you can get the image inside of the crystal to be if you use the technique correctly.  Contrary to what you might believe, you don’t need an expensive macro lens to get a good shot using a crystal ball; I’ve gotten shots that I am incredibly happy with by using both my 70mm to 300mm telephoto lens as well as my 35mm prime lens...it’s really all about placement, background and focus.  So, here are a few general tips to get you started. 

Basic Tips for Crystal Ball Photography 

1.Purchase yourself a good quality, completely clear genuine crystal ball.  They are not expensive (ranging from $10 to $50 depending on size and quality).  I recommend you start with the 80mm size because it is easy to transport and set up, but the 110mm is also a fun tool to have in the bag if you want to fill the frame a bit more.  Here is a link to help you get started.

2.Once you have your crystal, you need only find yourself an interesting subject and set your ball up on a surface where it will not move.  Most crystals come with a small stand, which can be quite handy, but you can also set it up on a fence, wall, in the dirt, on a cup, hold it in your hand (or have someone else hold it), anywhere stable will do.  Remember, though, that the resulting picture “inside” of the crystal will be upside down, and so you will need to make the artistic choice of whether or not to flip the photo in post production or leave it in the more abstract natural form.  Because of this, choose the way that you set your crystal up carefully so that if you do decide to flip the image you won’t have a crystal hanging oddly from the top of your composition.  If you choose to hold the crystal (or have someone hold it for you), I suggest only using your thumb and index finger - the less of your hand on the ball the better the picture inside the crystal will be - and the finger placement looks fairly natural if you decide to flip the image.  

3.While shooting in the direct sunlight can create some really amazing shots with interesting mini sun flares, take care in making sure that you are not picking up too much glare, as this is difficult to edit out in post.  Once you’ve set up the crystal, make sure you move all the way around it while looking through your viewfinder to see what the best angle with the least glare will be - or shoot in the shade.  Also, if the crystal is in the direct sunlight for too long, it can get quite hot (learned this the hard way), so be aware - I bring along a small towel to wrap mine in for transport.  

4.Always be sure that your crystal is completely clean before you start shooting; no fingerprints, smudges, sand, dirt, etc.  These things will ruin what could otherwise be a great shot.  

5.Finally, you have to choose your focal distance and your aperture.  The wider the aperture and the farther your crystal is from background objects, the more bokeh you will get.  If you want to give the scene inside your crystal some “reference” go for a slightly narrower aperture.  Always be sure to use spot focus (single point focusing is my choice for these shots) and focus directly on the center of the crystal to get the best clarity for your “inner image”. 

Hopefully this little article gets your creative juices flowing.  Remember, anything that you can do to change up your routine and try new things is great for your craft.  This type of photography may not be number one in your book, but for a relatively small investment, you can give something a try that will force you to see the world in a different way.  As a side note, a crystal ball makes for a really unusual and beautiful prop in portrait sessions.  I’d love to see some of your crystal ball shots, so be sure to post them in the comments.  Happy shooting!

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Equine Portrait Sessions - Preserving Important Memories


Brides and grooms preserve the memories of thier most special day, parents document the milestones in thier children's lives, couples create lasting reflections...why then would we not do the same thing with our beloved equine partners?  Professional photographs can be the key to both moving past the trauma of loss, as well as remembering the beauty of a special bond.  The following article (written by me for San Luis Horse News) characterizes the importance of preserving our most special memories while we still have the time.  Visit SLO Horse News for more great articles about the thriving California Central Coast Horse Community.

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Moving On Down the Line


Lensbaby Heart Blog Circle Theme "Movement"


For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with trains and urban graffiti.  I've skulked around train depots, kicked through abandoned train yards, and walked many miles of tracks through the years with camera in hand, and I am so often fascinated with the idea of something traveling across a state or even the country picking up "artwork" along the way.  How many hands have touched these train cars, and how many minds combined to create these graphic images?  I begin to travel with these trains inside of my own head...


"Sunny Day on the Line"


The Lensbaby has opened new doors for me in terms of my addiction to photographing trains.  I am able to capture a moving object with an exaggerated feeling of movement through the lens tilt, or I am able to capture a stationary subject and "create" the movement.  The possibilities are really endless.  All of these images were taken with the Composer Pro and the Sweet 35 Optic. 


"Art on the Tracks"


The strong lines and graphic colors of the graffiti painted on these cars gives me an instant sense of almost forbidden pleasure.  While I don't condone "tagging" or defacing property, I do love documenting the nature of the world around me with my camera. 


"Old West By Rail"

Sometimes I capture an image that gives me a distinct sense of space and time.  When I took "Old West by Rail", I was almost transported to the dusty roads and wide open spaces that were once the Americas.  Something about the illusion of speed and the tones that spoke to me while editing allowed me to almost channel the feeling of riding along a train on horseback. 


"Movin' On Down the Line"


Of course, as much as I love trains, train tracks and shooting these "steel creatures" in motion, I have to give the same warning that I do to everyone when I share images like this...be extremely careful any time that you get near train tracks; it can be difficult to judge the speed of a moving train, and one should never stand on or too close to the tracks - not to mention that the area on and around railroad tracks is actually private property.  The only "safe" time to be on the tracks is when they are closed, and even then you need to have an official "guide".   


"The Depot"

Lucikly, I have a close family friend who works for the railroad, and this has allowed me to "safely" photograph certain areas that would otherwise be off limits.  "The Depot" ties all of the above trains together...the long lines of tracks and the station is as graphically fascinating to me as the trains themselves.  With this shot I wanted to use perspective and the signature Lensbaby tilt and blur to give a sense of what it feels like to be right there in the action; to give a sense of the rush of air and the clattering of metal on metal as one of the earlier forms of transportation carries on in the 21st Century. 

Remember, the world is filled with stories waiting to be told - as photographers, we have the unique ability to find a scene or an object and bend it into something that tells the story inside of our heads...and the "bending" is just a little bit easier with the Lensbaby!

If you haven't already, do some research on the wonderful world of the Lensbaby, there are so many incredible options when it comes to this system, especially if you seek to create "art" with your photography.  And be sure to continue around the "Lensbaby Heart Circle" by visiting the page of the talented Janet Douglas!

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October's Lensbaby Love Blog Circle - Purple Florals


As I navigate the wonderful world of the Lensbaby, I find that I am increasingly drawn to bokeh and colors, and what better subjects to show these two things than flowers?  It's still "summer" here in California, and so I have been taking advantage of the sunny days and warm weather, and have been searching neighborhoods, fields and meadows for new and interesting ways to bond with my recently purchased Lensbaby Sweet 35.  This month I chose a "purple florals" theme. 






I'm continually fascinated by the way that the Lensbaby has allowed me to take my photography to new and creative levels.  I've said it once, and I'll say it again...I'm HOOKED! 

Please take a moment to visit Anja Williams Photography , to see what fellow Lensbaby aficionado, Anja Williams, has done with her Lensbaby this month. 


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Flow Boarding at Belmont Park with the Lensbaby CP Sweet 35


The end of the summer is fast approaching, but I managed to make one last pilgrimage to Pacific Beach, CA this passed weekend to catch the last of the sun's warmth.  During my stay, I ventured down to one of my favorite haunts, Pacific Beach, and found myself walking around Belmont Park.  This is where I was introduced to something that I have wanted to try for years...flow boarding.  I've been a surfer most of my life, and I had heard good things, but aside from the occasional "cruise ship" brochure, I have never actually seen a "flowboarding" set-up.  I admitt that I was impressed, and of course I had to try it!  I won't bore you all with the photos captured OF me actually attempting to "board" - let's just say that it's much more difficult that it looks, and a flow boarding champion, I am not - but after getting tossed through the big wave a few too many times I decided to pull out the camera and capture some images.  It was a "Lensbaby only" weekend for me in San Diego, so my camera was equipped with the Composer Pro and Sweet 35 optic.  I managed to position myself to capture a few good shots of the "pros" coming to practice as afternoon turned to evening. 

An aperture of 8 allowed me to capture a decent sized sweet spot, while still maintaining the signature Lensbaby blur at the edges of the wave.  This particular boarder made me wish that I had a little more time to spend learning how to actually do more than stand up for 60 seconds before getting tossed through the barrel of the wave. 

A nice splash to all of the onlookers waiting in line for their turn on the wave, which is the only FlowBarrel in the United States.  Everyone from tourists to gold medalists have tried thier luck at riding this endless wave, which is the closest man-made simulation of Hawaii's famous Bonzai Pipeline reef break.  The sheer power of 100,000 gallons of water per minute being pumped beneath you to create this 10 foot wave is quite incredible to watch...and to ride. 

Some riders have honed their skills to the point that they are able to do some pretty amazing aerial tricks, that are a bit of a cross between skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing. 

...and with a cross back over the front of the wave and a splash of diamonds, my session was finished.  Don't think I'm not already planning my next adventure to Belmont Park and the Pacific Beach "Wave House" for another flow boarding adventure...but it may have to wait until next year; snowboarding season is almost here, after all!

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