Photographers look everywhere and will seemingly do anything to make unique images. We spend our hard earned money on expensive lenses and complicated photo software, spend hours of time making D.I.Y. tools and modify our gear hoping to craft interesting photographs. We are thinking too hard and spending too much.
We often overlook the most basic objects that can be incorporated into our gear bag. One simple way to create a unique image is not to modify your camera, but to modify available light. To do this you won't need to break your back or your wallet. You just need a prism, a kid's toy.
What is a prism?
Though small and lightweight, a prism is a powerful optical element. The flat, transparent, polished surfaces refract and reflect light. Prisms shatter light into spectral colors (the colors of the rainbow), split light into components with different polarization or simply reflect light.
The science is relatively simple. Photons (particles that transmit light) change speed as they move from the air into the glass (or plastic) of the prism. This change in speed causes the light to be refracted and change angles or directions within the prism. In a nutshell, light leaves the prism differently than it enters. For photographers, the possibility of modifying the direction of light can be mesmerizing.
How do you use it?
Using a prism is really simple and thankfully, there is no wrong way to use it.
1) Place the prism over a portion of your lens. Be careful not to scratch your glass!
2) Manipulate the prism to refract or reflect the light differently.
3) Go nuts.
- Position the prism in front of your lens instead of directly on it
- Draw an element into your composition that is well outside of the frame
- Blast highlights out
- Distort faces
- Pull a vibrant light ray down from the setting sun
Coupling a prism with an additional variable (i.e. shutter speed or aperture) makes the photographic possibilities vast. The options for prism play are further compounded when the characteristics of the available light change. As with anything, the important factor is to practice.
Purchase a prism online and get shooting today!
Have you used prisms with your photography? I would love to hear about your techniques in the comments section.
Award winning photographer based in Tokyo, Japan. Specializing in portrait photography, he shoots a variety of portraiture, editorial, and event, and commercial photography assignments. Andy is a husband, father, and lover of fried food.