Andy Westlake tries out a creative photography aid
This has got to be some kind of a joke, right? On a page where we cover the latest, most useful photographic accessories, this week it’s a crystal ball? If this is what you’re thinking, then I understand your scepticism. I had much the same reaction on being offered a Lensball for review, especially given its hyperbolic tagline ‘ The Ultimate Photographic Accessory’. But actually, after using one for a while, I’ve decided that there’s more to it than you might think.
Unlike anything else we review here, the Lensball won’t help you take better photos by keeping your camera steady, enhancing the light or protecting your kit. Instead, it goes into your pictures to form part of the composition. It’s an optically perfect crystal- glass ball that acts somewhat like a fisheye lens, forming a superwide view of the world that’s upside down and reflected left-to-right. Photographing the image formed by the Lensball, with the same scene out- of-focus in the background, can give some really interesting results.
But here’s the thing – you really have to work at it. You can’t just drop it into any old shot; both the Lensball and the background have to work together. This means finding a way of placing the ball so it produces a coherent composition, then photographing it using the right lens and settings.
As a result, shooting with the Lensball becomes a conscious exercise in creativity. First, you need a panoramic scene that’ll look sufficiently interesting. Second, you need to find somewhere to place the Lensball where it won’t roll away, as balls are wont to do. Third, you need to decide whether to shoot at wideangle and include the whole scene twice, or at telephoto to abstract a complementary background. And here’s the key: thinking your way through these challenges should then have a positive knock- on effect about how you frame your photography as a whole.
It’s possible to find much cheaper globes online, however Lensball says that it uses expensive, top- quality lead crystal glass for the best optical quality. Having had mine flagged up as a suspicious object by a Eurostar X-ray scanner, I can vouch for the fact that it’s no run- of-the- mill glass.
Two sizes Alongside the 80mm ‘Pro’ model, Lensball also sells a 60mm ‘Pocket’ version that weighs 250g. It’s easy to think that we can improve our photography by upgrading our kit, but sometimes we also need to work on improving the way we see. The beauty of the Lensball is that it encourages precisely this. You certainly won’t use it in every shot, but it can encourage you to look on the world in a more creative way.
Neatly packed An attractive presentation box keeps the Lensball safe during transit. Microfibre pouch The Lensball comes with a soft pouch with a drawstring closure, to keep it clean and free of fingerprints. Shooting with Lensball exercises your creativity