Ever since I acquired my first orb 3 years ago I love taking pictures with it. Over time, I have discovered what does and doesn’t work for me in my orbalicious images and that is what I would like to share with you in this post. I hope these 5 tips will help you find what you like in your images – which may or may not be the same things I like! To see a wider range of photographs I have taken please check out my “Orbaliciousness” portfolio gallery.
I have two clear orbs, one is 60 mm in diameter and the other 40 mm. I find the 60 mm to be the perfect dimensions as it is easy to carry and a good size for photos – neither too small nor too heavy. I purchased mine from eBay and you can find many by searching for “60mm clear quartz sphere”. Here below you can see two behind the scenes images of a photoshoot I did at sunrise from the Overseas Passenger Terminal to capture the Sydney Opera House through my 60 mm orb.
Behind the scenes at Circular Quay with a 60 mm diameter orb. I normally shoot handheld but in this case, I used the tripod so I could show you the distances I used.
This is what I look like while shooting through my 60 mm diameter orb – I often sit or lay on the ground to have my camera at the same height as the orb. Thank you Simon for the photo!
1) Rotate the photo 180 degrees
This is something that I always do. The photograph taken straight out of the camera will present the image inside the orb upside down because it acts as a lens, and the background will be out of focus. I find this frustrating to look at as there is no part of the image which is “right”! By rotating the photo 180 degrees the image inside the orb, which is in focus, becomes the right way up. The background is not the main element of the photograph, therefore, even upside down and out of focus it adds character to the composition.
f = 55 mm, f/11, 1/160 sec.
This image taken from Mrs Macquire’s Chair in Sydney has not been inverted. It frustrates me because when I look at the image inside the orb it’s upside down and when I look at the background it’s out of focus – there is just no part of this image which is “right”!
f = 55 mm, f/11, 1/160 sec.
Inverted photograph of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge was taken from Mrs Macquire’s Chair. Once the photograph is inverted I find it much more pleasing to the eye as the image inside the orb, which is in focus, is now the right way up.
2) Fill the frame with the orb
I like making the orb the main focus of the image, and I do so by making sure I am close enough to fill most of the frame with it. If the orb is just a small detail in the corner I find it distracting, however, if the orb is the main element of the photograph it catches my eye and it is big enough to distinguish what is inside it. Exactly how much of the frame I fill with the orb will depend on the particular background I am trying to capture – more on that in the next tip!
f = 49 mm, f/16, 1/170 sec.
f = 44 mm, f/11, 1/120 sec.
I have improved this composition by moving close to fill a larger part of the frame with the orb.
f = 18 mm, f/11, 1/180 sec.
f = 83 mm, f/18, 1/90 sec.
3) Adjust the background
Once I have chosen a spot to place my orb – I don’t like using a stand or holding it in my hand so I look for an uneven surface on location, usually a rock – I move around the orb to find the composition I like the most. Slight changes in your position will have a large effect on the background but only minimally modify the image inside the orb as you can see in the animations below. Therefore, once I know the general direction I want to shoot in I will adjust the background with respect to the orb by slightly moving the camera and even adjusting the focal length. Just a few centimetres can drastically change the position of the background, which is why I normally shoot handheld as it allows me finer position control without having to move a bulky tripod.
The shape of the background will determine how much of the frame I will with the orb because I generally look to incorporate a background which has a distinguishable shape but does not draw too much attention away from the orb. The Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge make perfect backgrounds due to their easily recognisable profiles! ????
Many different compositions are available while shooting from Blues Point by just rotating around the orb, which is in a fixed position.
Slight variations of the vertical position of the camera have a great effect on the background of the image.
The size of the background with respect to the orb is determined by the focal length of the lens, as can be seen in the diagram below. The longer the focal length the larger the background will be. Note how the image inside the orb stays the same for all focal lengths.
Diagram illustrating the effect of different focal lengths on the background of an image taken using a 60mm diameter orb. The longer the focal length the larger the background will be. Note that the diagram is not to scale
Additionally, to keep the size of the orb constant using different focal lengths you will have to move closer to the orb for wider focal lengths, and further away for longer focal lengths. The change in position required is not much, though – just a couple of steps – as can be seen in the behind the scenes images below. If you find that the camera is not focusing properly on the image inside the orb it is likely that you have gotten too close to the orb – closer than the minimum focusing distance of the lens. When this happens to me I just move a few millimetres backwards and then crop the photo later on if I need to.
Behind the scenes while shooting with the Fuji x-T1 at 52mm. The camera is placed very close to the orb – at minimum focusing distance of the lens – in order for the orb to fill most of the frame.
4) Choose the appropriate aperture
The aperture determines how sharp the background appears. For larger apertures (lower f/stops) not even the orb itself will be in focus as the depth of field is very shallow and the camera is focusing on the image formed through the orb, which is closer to the camera than the orb itself. Depending on what you’re shooting you might want the background more or less in focus, however, I rarely go wider than f/8 and most often I use f/11 or higher f/stops.
f = 83 mm.
click to play animation
The lens aperture controls how sharp the background appears. For lower f/stops not even the orb itself will be in focus!
f = 83 mm, f/18, 1/90 sec.
5) Beware of reflections
You might have noticed how I cloned out the white and pinkish reflections out of the orb in the image above. It is really hard to avoid getting any stray reflections on the orb from the sun, lights, buildings nearby… anything! When possible I clone them out, but if there are too many – like when shooting at night as you can see below – I just leave them there because it is then too much effort to get rid of them! The best thing is to keep an eye out when shooting and see if by repositioning the orb or shading it with something (like a hat, or your hand) you can make most of them go away! ????
f = 50 mm, f/1.8, 2.5 sec.
The multitude of lights during the VIVID festival in Sydney cause many reflections in the orb. The bokeh was achieved using a star-shaped aperture, which you can read about in the “Bokehliciousness” blog post.
f = 50 mm, f/8, 4 sec.
I hope you find these tips helpful next time you’re out taking photos with an orb. I would love to see what you come up with so feel free to share your images with me on my Facebook page! If you’d like to see more of my orbalicious images please check out my “Orbaliciousness” portfolio gallery.
Thank you for reading!
About the author
I am a physicist and currently researching in the NanoPhotonics centre at the University of Cambridge, UK. As you might have guessed from the title of this blog, I love photography too. My favourite things to photograph are landscapes, cities and travels. I think that the best photographs are those that come hand in hand with good memories and funny stories. You can view my photography portfolio at TheSpanishAna.com.