Learning Prism Photography in the Swamps and Streets of New Orleans / by Zack Smith

Lost Bayou Ramblers through the crystal ball. Prism photography in New Orleans!

Lost Bayou Ramblers through the crystal ball. Prism photography in New Orleans!

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 when I ran across a post from a photography acquaintance who I shot last years Voodoo Fest with, C3 shooter Katrina Barber. She showed a post using a prism she made, 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. 

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. As in our Prisms are sometimes used for the internal reflection at the surfaces rather than for dispersion. If light inside the prism hits one of the surfaces at a sufficiently steep angle, total internal reflection occurs and all of the light is reflected. This makes a prism a useful substitute for a mirror in some situations. Does this make you want to walk the streets of New Orleans with one of these? Me too!

Whenever I get my hands on a new way of seeing, like a prism for photography, I immediately take to the street and the swamps of Louisiana to try it out. What better environment to get out of your creative rut than New Orleans! 

Street walking documentary in New Orleans with prism photography

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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. 

I wasn't pointing the camera at this guy, but the prism allowed me to have him in the frame!

I wasn't pointing the camera at this guy, but the prism allowed me to have him in the frame!

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!

This is a great crystal ball i purchased from Amlong as well. Prism photography on point!

This is a great crystal ball i purchased from Amlong as well. Prism photography on point!

Here i am reflecting the palmetto on the ground into the prism, and into my lens.

Here i am reflecting the palmetto on the ground into the prism, and into my lens.

All Images ©Zack Smith Photography and may not be used, but this post can be shared! Just copy the link and give credit!