Prism Photography: A Step-By-Step Guide

Looking to create stunning photos using prisms? You have come to the right place.

In this article, I explain everything you need to know about prismatic photography, including:

  • How the prism effect works
  • The equipment you need for prismatic images
  • Simple step-by-step instructions for capturing creative prism photos
  • Much more!

When you’re done reading, you’ll know how to use prisms like a pro, so let’s dive in, starting with:

What is prismatic photography?

Prismatic photography refers to any photographic technique that uses a prism to create rainbows, reflections and/or blurring effects.

Many prismatic photographers use standard triangular prisms to create their images:

prism photography guide

But you can also use suncatchers, toys and other creative prismatic objects:

prism photography guide

Note that prismatic photography tends to use the prism effects, but it rarely features the prism itself in the picture. For example, I created this following image by positioning the prism so close to the lens – on the right side of the frame – that it became blurry:

prism photography guide

As you can see, the rainbow effect appears, but the prism itself is not really noticeable.

That said, you can create beautiful prism photos by including the prism in the frame. There is no right or wrong method; it’s all about experimentation!

How does prismatic photography work?

You may be familiar with triangular prisms from high school demonstrations of the characteristics of light.

The physics looks like this: when a beam of light (made up of different electromagnetic waves with different wavelengths) hits a piece of glass directly, the light passes through it. But if the light beam strikes a glass surface at an angle, the waves bend; it is a phenomenon called refraction.

When a beam of light strikes a prism at an angle, the light waves bend. Then, when the beam exits through the other side of the prism, the light waves bend again. the amount that light bends depends on the wavelengths contained in the beam of light. Red bends at one angle, purple bends at another angle, etc. – and so each color is curved differently, producing a rainbow effect.

prism photography guide

Standard lenses are do not designed to refract light into a rainbow pattern. Instead, they’re created for precision and optical clarity, and for the most part, that works just fine.

But if you want to capture prismatic effects, you can simply hold a prism in front of your lens. Then, by adjusting the position and angle of the prism, you can add creative effects to your photos, including color splashes, interesting blurring, and even intentional camera movements:

prism photography guide

Prismatic photography: the step-by-step guide

In this section, I explain how to create beautiful prismatic shots from start to finish.

Step 1: Gather your materials

Prismatic photography requires a few simple elements. As you’d expect, you need a prism of some sort, and I really recommend buying a standard triangular prism. These are very reliable and you can buy one cheaply on Amazon or eBay.

In fact, many of the images taken in this article used a prism I bought on eBay for just a few dollars:

prism photography guide

Which prism size is the best? You want to keep the prism small enough to be manageable (because you’ll need to hold it in front of the camera with one hand). Personally, I like the smaller 3 × 1 in (8 × 2.5 cm) prisms, but feel free to buy a few different prisms if you want to test your options.

I would also recommend wearing a lens cloth; after a few shots, your prism will be covered in fingerprints and you’ll need an easy way to wipe down its surfaces.

Step 2: Find a nice subject (fixed)

You can do prism photography with any subject, but when you’re just starting out, I recommend shooting a still, close-up nature subject (like a flower or a leaf).

prism photography guide

This way you will have plenty of time to experiment with positioning the prism – a plant won’t run away and get impatient! – and if you’re shooting outdoors when the light is good, you won’t have to worry about using a tripod.

Then, as you become more experienced, you can try using the prism effect on live subjects and in different lighting conditions. For example, you can have fun with portrait prism photography. You could even try dog ​​or cat prism photography, assuming your pet will stay in position while you focus and shoot!

Step 3: Position the prism in front of the lens

Once you’ve chosen a subject, it’s time to position the prism. This is where the fun begins; creating interesting effects with a prism takes a bit of trial and error, so you’ll need to be patient.

Turn on your camera, then hold the prism a few inches in front of the lens. I recommend switching your lens to manual focus (lenses don’t do a great job of autofocusing through glass materials). Then focus on your subject.

Rotate and adjust the prism observing carefully until the colors appear. I recommend using Live View, which will give you a better idea of ​​the effect of the prism. I also recommend placing your camera on a tripod, as juggling between the camera in one hand and the prism in the other can be frustrating!

prism photography guide

Note that tilting the prism away from the lens or changing your position relative to the sun can also add different effects. Also experiment with the distance between the prism and the camera lens. After a few minutes – or a few moments, if you’re lucky! – you will see prismatic effects.

Step 4: Take some shots!

Once you get an effect you like, it’s time to shoot. If you’ve followed the advice I’ve given above, your lens should focus (manually) on your main subject, but do one last check to make sure you’ve set the focus point correctly .

prism photography guide

Select a relatively wide aperture – you want to blur the prism until the glass itself is no longer visible – make sure your shutter speed is fast enough for a sharp image, then shoot!

Of course, before proceeding, do a quick review of your image on the camera’s LCD screen. Ask yourself: Do I like the effect? To blur the prism further, move it closer to the lens or widen the aperture. To give the prism more presence, move it closer to the subject or reduce the aperture.

prism photography guide

And once you can create a nice prism effect consistently, try changing the prisms! I constantly switch between my triangular prism and a glass wine cork I found while shopping. The wine cork prism adds an interesting kaleidoscopic effect, but it also tends to distort the image more – so it’s fun to experiment and see what works best!

prism photography guide
My wine cork prism!

Prismatic Photography: Final Words

prism photography guide

Now that you have completed this article, you are ready to capture beautiful prism photos yourself!

So grab a glass prism and give it a try. Above all, have fun!

Now your turn :

What subjects do you plan to photograph with a prism? Share your thoughts (and prism photos!) in the comments below!

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