Travelers are fantasists, conjurers, seers - and what they finally discover is that every round object everywhere is a crystal ball: stone, teapot, the marvelous globe of the human eye. -- Cynthia Ozick
I first heard of a lens ball for photography when a friend shared a facebook video with me - and I was intrigued immediately. It was gimmicky, but cool. I started to do some research - there was little information out there. But I went to my old standby - Amazon - and the necessary "crystal balls" were not expensive.
But they came in different sizes... which one to choose. I found them in 60mm, 70 mm and larger. I found myself measuring that out on a ruler and miming holding it in my hands. 60mm (about 2.4") seemed small to hold. The larger ones were heavy and I would not comfortably be able to hold one with one hand. 70mm (2.75") seemed just right (to borrow a line from Goldilocks). The one I bought was only about $12.
Then I started some research on technique. The initial articles I read said to use a macro lens. Cool, I had that!
My first time out, I captured this image. It wasn't great - see the path and the shadow? It's not as vibrant as I would have liked. But I was hooked anyway. And I've improved my technique over the last year or so. I'll go through my learnings here - hopefully in a simple way.
HOW TO SHOOT THROUGH A LENS BALL
Start with the lens ball itself. Choose a good size - but if you're going to be carrying it around, don't go too large. I am very happy with my 70mm version.
Choose your lens. I started with my 100mm macro (expensive and 65mm budget), but one of my favorite shots was done with my standard 24-105mm. I don't see why you can't try it with a cell phone as well - just have something where you can choose what to focus on.
Find your subject. Landscapes are particularly cool, but I plan to use mine for other subjects.
If you're using a camera, you'll need to choose your settings. I like to shoot Aperture value here, and different settings product very different results. A large aperture (small number) will likely produce blurry edges on the ball. A small aperture will produce sharper edges. See the examples I've posted below for a comparison.
Images at various apertures - f/3.5, f/7.1 and f/22
Notice the progressive sharpness of the edges of the ball
I usually have someone else hold the ball for me, but have done it myself as well. Use two fingers - typically at the top and bottom. But for one of my fav shots I held it on the sides. Be careful - if you're in the sun, this thing can get hot FAST and burn you. (Ask my daughter how we learned that!). My sphere came with a small stand and I've used that on benches and bridge railings - but it can tend to be distracting in the final shot. And for those of you who remember burning a hole in paper using a magnifying glass - don't leave it in one place for very long.
Choose where you want to focus. Keep a few things in mind - what you see through this will be upside down. Focus on the real image vs any reflections in the water. Choose the same item for focus as you would if you were taking a regular picture. The camera may try to focus on something else, or even on the edges of the ball, so take care with this.
You get a really wide angle, so be conscious of what's in the lens ball reflection. (Notice the path I unintentionally captured in my first ever pic.) Also, watch for reflections from the sun. I have a pic with a fantastic sun burst, but many of the pics I attempted had that on the bottom of the image, not in the sky. I ended up moving to shade for a few shots.
Take a few pics. Try focusing on different things and taking pics from different angles.
The image through your lens ball WILL be upside down. I flip mine (in Lightroom - Photo > Flip Vertical. I then crop to remove anything distracting and make an attractive pic. I edit to bring up details - just like with any other shots.
Most of all - HAVE FUN doing this. This is the rare piece of equipment for photography that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. If you're interested, take a look at this one (and yes, I do get a small portion of the sales from the Amazon affiliate program.
Let me know if you have any questions and please share your shots!