Somewhere Over the Rainbow - Refracting Light

 

Refraction of light occurs when the light passes from one medium into another. Think of a ray of sunshine passing through the air and then through a prism. Refraction changes the speed and direction of the light, and in the case of the prism it can split white light into rainbows. Refraction occurs all around us and often unnoticed. While this common phenomenon occurs with many mediums, such as plastic, it is with water drops, glass or crystal that we see the most striking results.

Drops hanging off a branch create tiny magnifying glasses. An easily reproduced and controlled effect, using glycerin, which moves slower and creates larger drops, we can place them on glass sheets or leaves or branches and shoot tiny worlds of things like a single flower which repeats in all the drops. To get best results, you will need a macro lens, a small bottle of glycerin which you can purchase at any pharmacy, and an eye dropper.

For the second experiment in refraction, I suggest a wine glass of water. The double convex of the glass curves causes the viewer to see a reversed image. This is especially powerful with a high contrast simple background, but the application of distortion using this technique is endless.

For the gear heads, there is a large list of available options: prisms, lens balls, marbles, convex lenses, crystals, CD’s, cut pieces of copper pipe and a kaleidoscope lens are just some of the refraction distortion objects that find their way into my photography bag.

While each of the above creates a different distortion the artistic application can be similar. Many of these tools create interesting soft color edges, which can give a portrait a romantic look. They have the same effect on landscapes and cityscapes.  Who doesn’t want to live in a world of gentle, colorful, flaring light? Each tool creates a unique fingerprint, but the overall effect speaks “same family”.

My tip is to start simple and with inexpensive supplies or things you already own.

CAUTION:

  1. When working with a lens ball, you need to recognize that it performs the same function as a magnifying glass. So if you are holding it in the sun on a bare hand, like a magnifying glass, it will try to start a fire. Simply put, it will burn your hand. It is magnifying the sun beam. This is a very quick and very painful experience. To avoid this, you can make sure to keep the ball shaded. I am also careful to store any light bending equipment in a drawer or box and away from direct sunlight to avoid starting an accidental fire.
  2. Many of these objects are used by holding them near or against your lens. I recommend you protect your lens with a filter. But even filters aren’t disposable equipment. Often we invest in them to get a high quality glass and finish. The answer is to be careful about how close you place the objects and to not scrape the lens or filter surface. This is especially true when working with cut copper pipe.
  3. With some of these, you are bending light back into the camera to cause a kind of sun flare. Be careful that you aren’t sending sunlight directly into your eyes. Take precautions to avoid eye damage.

The first rules are always be safe, be patient. From there it is a matter of practice and experience so you can create a consistent photo effect.

 


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