Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tutorial - Spherical Refractions

Hello Paper Heart Camera friends! I'm Melissa from Serendipity is Sweet. I am new here and so thrilled to be joining the inspiring ladies who lend their talents to this blog.  
I'm a bit of a Pinterest addict and I love browsing the site, as well as other photography blogs, for tutorials and ideas on new and interesting things to shoot. I always learn a great deal about light, focal lengths and composition when trying out new set ups, so when I came across a pin about refractions I thought I'd give it a whirl to see what I could come up with. 
You can find a more technical explanation here, but basically a spherical refraction is when an image is flipped upside down because of a negative magnification. Any clear spherical shape can cause this phenomenon (think marble, wine goblet, water drop, etc.) So, in playing with this idea, I came up with the following image:

Here's how I got there:  I set out a white board for a plain background and placed a glass dish on top and filled it with colorful cereal. Then I used a glass sheet (actually an insert from an end table I have, but any flat glass will do) and set it atop two objects of equal height so that it was about a foot or so above my dish of cereal. I used a spray bottle of water to spray the underside of the glass sheet to create droplets. Then I focused on the drops and shot away. 
I noticed two things right away: the glass with the droplets needed to be super clean and smudge free, and it was tough to get droplets of equal size and shape. I was getting a lot of blur and haze and runny drops. Naptime was over so I packed it up and loaded my shots to see what I had. 

Sort of interesting and abstract, but not what I was going for. 

The next day I tried again, but instead of a water bottle I used liquid glycerin (which is inexpensive and can be found at most pharmacies - we add it to bubble solution for longer lasting bubbles ;).  I used a dropper to add the glycerin to the glass sheet and set up the rest of my shoot as I had before. I used Skittles this time instead of cereal. Here's a pullback of my fancy studio - notice the fabulously tattered white board that my kids love to play with:

I shot this in full mid-day sun and was able to use a fast shutter speed, so I did not set up my tripod. I probably should have, but I'm often just plain lazy and nap time is way too short at my house. I used my 50 mm lens at f/9, ISO 50 and 1/200 sec and hand held my camera toggling my focus point. 

I like the effect I got from the second set up much better. Had I had more time I probably would have tried to make the drops more round and evenly spaced. In editing I added a little clarity and selectively sharpened the spheres before resizing for the web. Here's another shot:

This was pretty easy and inexpensive to set up. I had fun playing with this shoot and will definitely revisit this idea, perhaps trying different backgrounds for different effects. Give this a try and link up your shots here. I'd love to see them and hear about your experience!



  1. That is so cool. Can't wait to try it!

  2. Ohhhhh - how fun!!!!! I have seen lots of shots like this floating around. THANK YOU for the lovely explaination..... totally giving this a try!

  3. SO AWESOME!!!!!! Definitely going to have to give this a try!

  4. This will be a fun experiment!


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