How to shoot prism photography: Prisming for Beginners in the Streets of New Orleans / by Zack Smith Photography

Do you want to learn how to use prisms for photography? Look no further

 

Before you read this NOTE! I will be bringing ALL OF MY PRISMS with me for the Mardi Gras Photography Workshop in New Orleans on Saturday, February 3rd. CLICK HERE to learn more and sign up!

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As a photographer do you ever get stuck in a creative rut? Creative gridlock happens to me more often than I care to admit, but luckily I found my new muse to get the ideas running full speed again. I discovered prism photography by happenstance one day while on Instagram and it ignited one of those infectious Google Search Time Warps where I was searching and researching Google on prism photography, prisms, and photographers who use prisms. I found so much great inspiration in those searches, and I came away with buying a set of old school original prisms from Amlong Crystals and some very new school prisms from Get Fractals.

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Prism photography is easy, just experiment!

Yes, you probably recognize this type of prism from physics class in grade school.  Did you know that when held up to your lens you can not only project the full spectrum of light into your lens but reflect anything within a 180 degree radius into your lens? Creative rut be damned! I also bought a Crystal Sphere set as well and have been experimenting with that. Normally, prisms are sometimes used for the internal reflection at the surfaces rather than for dispersion. (duh!) If light inside the prism hits one of the surfaces at a sufficiently steep angle, total internal reflection occurs as all of the light is reflected. This makes a prism a useful substitute for a mirror in some situations. (did you know you can also use a mirror?) Does this make you want to walk the streets with one of these? Me too!

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For me, whenever I get my hands on a new way of seeing, like a prism for photography, I immediately take to the streets and the swamps of Louisiana to try it out. What better environment to get out of your creative rut!

Street Walking Documentary In New Orleans With Prism Photography

There are so many variations you can make to your composition by the way you hold the prism to your lens. I suggest (and many other prism photographers) to use at least a 50mm, or something close to that so you can cover the full front of the lens and focal length with your prism. In most cases I was using the cylindrical prism held horizontally in front of the lens. I was holding it directly up to the UV filter so I could balance and stabilize the prism. This I found very hard to do, because you only have so many hands to hold the camera stable, hold the prism stable, and create a good composition at the same time. This was a challenge, but I managed.

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Prism Photography Of Musicians In The Sweaty Swamps Of New Orleans' Couterie Forest

As you all know me by now, or are just learning, I shoot ALOT of New Orleans and Louisiana musicians. Being a musician most of my life, it's the circle of people I have been around the longest and can effectively communicate their visual needs and creative ideas with ease. One of the longest relationships I've had in this manner is with the Lafayette based Lost Bayou Ramblers. I have been photographing this band's promotional photography since 2000 and anytime they need new imagery for an album release, new member add, or a big gig - they call me. I am very grateful to have this relationship because these guys let me get as creative and "out there" as I want. There's a certain trust afforded here, and I am thankful for that...because I get to use prisms!

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How to Use Prisms with Photography

But what exactly is prism photography? Prism photography, also known as prisming, uses a prism-shaped, clear object in conjunction with a camera lens to produce artistic distortions. Using a prism while photographing is relatively simple. You just have to twist the prism in front of your lenses to give the illusion of a curve or bend in your surroundings on your camera. It does take some practice, but using a prism works a lot better than using mirrors or photoshoot techniques because it actually looks pretty natural.

Most photographers prefer to use a wider lens between 24 mm and 50 mm. You should start by using a wider aperture to let light into the lens. You can expect to see things like rainbows, prism-shaped light flares, curves in your image, and so much more. Using a prism in your creative photoshoots can leave you or your client with breath-taking photos that will be great for your portfolio and their personal keepsake.

If you are eager to try and use a prism in your photography, you can purchase one for as little as $12 on Amazon. Be sure to get one that isn’t too big. Most photographers are happy with a 6-inch prism. Sometimes, you may find that your fingers are getting in the way of your shot. Move your fingers to a point on the prism where they aren’t visible. Just be cautious when you are photographing your subject and you will be fine.

 6" Amlong Prism held vertical

6" Amlong Prism held vertical

 6" Amlong Prism held vertical.

6" Amlong Prism held vertical.

 6" Amlong Prism held vertical

6" Amlong Prism held vertical

 Circular Sphere - Amlong

Circular Sphere - Amlong

 Amlong 6" crystal prism held horizontally

Amlong 6" crystal prism held horizontally

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Get Fractal Filter Set

I was really able to control and master my prism photography with the set of "finger filter" prisms from Get Fractal. The set came in three and were housed in a pouch you can lock on your belt. I brought the filter set to photograph Satchmo Summerfest in New Orleans and was loving the way it made my portraits of musicians like no one else's. 

 Jams seen through my fractal filter from Get Fractals. These filters allow you to have more control with the filter. So cool!

Jams seen through my fractal filter from Get Fractals. These filters allow you to have more control with the filter. So cool!

 Pscyh-a-Tuba!!! Jon and Jason at French Quarter Fest shot through a Fractal Filter.

Pscyh-a-Tuba!!! Jon and Jason at French Quarter Fest shot through a Fractal Filter.

 Dancin Man 504 - Birthday Boy shot in Prisms during Satchmo Fest in New Orleans!

Dancin Man 504 - Birthday Boy shot in Prisms during Satchmo Fest in New Orleans!

 Freddie Lonzo photographed through my Fractal Filter Prism!

Freddie Lonzo photographed through my Fractal Filter Prism!