I took a new toy with me to the #ORToyPhotoSafari. And no it wasn’t an actual toy, it was a Lensball. Papajov first introduced me to this lo-fi way of creating unique toy photography at last years meet-up in San Francisco. This year I wanted to get a little more serious with my experimentation. When was I going to have two dedicated days to play with toys again? This was not an opportunity to pass-up.
What is a Lensball?
A Lensball is a large sphere of crystal clear leaded glass you can photograph through. It comes in two sizes 60mm and 80mm. I was playing with the larger (and heavier) of the two sizes. The beauty of the Lensball is that it’s completely analog. You simply put the ball between the camera and the subject and photograph through the ball. There are no filters to add, no batteries to charge and no app to master.
One of the unique properties of the lens ball is that it will invert your subject. This makes it a challenge to balance the background and the subject so that they somehow make sense together. You can approach this inversion by blurring the background completely or embracing the upside down imagery to create some pretty trippy images.
Choosing Your Subject Matter
When you scroll through the Instagram feed for Lensball (or the hashtag) you can see that landscapes and city subjects seem to be the most common. But I wanted to see how this funky fish eye lens equivalent would work with toys. I wanted to play with the distortion, the curves around the edges and hopefully create a portal into another world.
My initial subjects ranged from Unikitty, a Unicorn Porg and a Corellian Hound; all relatively small creatures. I found it was easier to find my focus in the ball if the figure was centered. Once I tried to play with the curve of the edges, but the blur was so great, the figure was simply a smear. Now I’m not saying this couldn’t be a cool effect, but for now, I like to have some portion of my image in focus.
I let David use the Lensball with his 12″ figures and the effect was complete different. A couple of other folks borrowed it as well. It remains to be seen if they captured anything worthy of sharing. I think that like with any new toy, there is some trial an err involved.
There are Drawbacks
There are always drawbacks and the Lensball is no different. First, you can start a fire with it! The sun was high and bright and the ball concentrated those rays into the best fire starter! More than once I found the ground smoking in a very disturbing manner. While your subject should be well lit, I wouldn’t put the Lensball on the ground unless its in the shade or on a non-flammable surface like a rock. I think there’s a reason you see so many night time photos using the Lensball. It’s a lot safer!
Like the Lensbaby, the effects created by using the Lensball are so distinct, a little goes along way. I can’t see myself using this new toy all the time. Even though the effects are cool they are super specific. I’m curious to see which toys it will work well with. Toys with a relationship to magic or mysticism in the back story would be a good fit. I like the feeling of magic that the ball imparts on the image. I can live with the drawbacks while I explore the distortion.
Photography is such a malleable art form. You can push and pull it in so many different directions. For example, two photographers on this past meet-up where playing with infrared photography, with and without toys while I was messing around with the Lensball. Since there is no ‘reality’ with toys, you can do what ever you want. You can go the Lomo route or play with pinhole cameras, you can experiment with color by using black and white or selective color – your imagination is the only limit. The Lensball falls right into this mind set of play and exploration. If you enjoy pushing your photography in new directions you might want to try a Lensball. At less than $40 US its a cheap toy. And if you do try your hand at Lensball photography, please tag me so I can see what your up to!
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That Unikitty shot delights me. Congrats. I’d love playing with it on the beach on Monday, but found too much reflection of things and people around me in my shot. So next time I’m skipping away with the ball, the toy, the camera, and just me. I’m excited to try it out more some day. Thanks, as always, for sharing so much of your approach, toys, and tricks, Shelly.
Thanks Doug! The bright light of the beach wasn’t very conducive to playing with the ball. I totally get the reflections too – I experienced that too. But it is a fun and silly tool to add to the tool box. You know Im always happy to share my explorations – even the ones that don’t work!
Oh. And that Porg that Krash Override created is stunning in this application. Ok, off to the forest I go with the magical ball.
Thanks for sharing your experience with the Lensball, Shelly. I’d seen them advertised and wondered what kinds of effects they might provide for toy photos. I also enjoy bug photography, and I think it could be fun to try for some slow-moving creatures (slugs, dead beetles, etc), too. Maybe I’ll invest in one… after my Star Wars 6″ figure purchase plan is concluded. Heh heh.
Teddi I’m glad you enjoyed my post. If you ever get the yen to purchase a Lensball for yourself let me know, I have a couple of coupons for 20% off I would be happy to share with you.