Prism is a small, inex­pen­sive and very easy to use tool that helps you cre­ate cre­ative pho­tos. How to use a prism to cre­ate spe­cial effects with­out Pho­to­shop and hide a non-pho­to­genic urn at the edge of the frame, read in our mate­r­i­al.

Prisms are used in pho­tog­ra­phy when you want to make your pho­tos more inter­est­ing. Their abil­i­ty to refract light helps cre­ate beau­ti­ful iri­des­cent high­lights, sur­re­al reflec­tions, and oth­er opti­cal effects in pho­tos. Depend­ing on which prism you use, you can achieve dif­fer­ent results.

Prism and rain­bow of refract­ed light / Pho­to: unsplash.com

How a prism works
Types of prisms for pho­tos
How to choose a prism for a pho­to
How to take a pho­to with a prism
Sim­u­late prism effects in Pho­to­shop

In short, in physics, a prism is a trans­par­ent object with sev­er­al faces — rec­tan­gles or rhom­bus­es, and two faces — poly­gons. More than one chap­ter is devot­ed to how prisms are arranged and work in physics text­books. We will be inter­est­ed in two prism effects:

  • a prism is able to divide white light into sep­a­rate com­po­nents and cre­ate a rain­bow (we will use it to cre­ate rain­bow high­lights);
You don’t have to wait for rain to shoot a rain­bow / Pho­to: unsplash.com
  • the prism is able to cre­ate inter­nal reflec­tions (to cre­ate sur­re­al shots.
Pho­to­shop is not need­ed to cre­ate such a pho­to / Pho­to: unsplash.com

Prisms can be quad­ran­gu­lar, pen­tag­o­nal and hexag­o­nal. The most com­mon is a sim­ple tri­an­gu­lar prism. You prob­a­bly saw these in your school years at a physics les­son.

In pho­tog­ra­phy, it is the tri­an­gu­lar prism that is most often used. It is easy to get and con­ve­nient to use / Pho­to: 123raki.ru

Prisms are made of glass, crys­tal and plas­tic. There are prisms with a more com­plex com­po­si­tion, but they are usu­al­ly used for strict­ly sci­en­tif­ic pur­pos­es and they cost more than a cam­era.

For pho­tog­ra­phy, a reg­u­lar glass prism is suit­able. This can be bought, for exam­ple, on mar­ket­places. The cost will be from 900 to 3000 rubles, depend­ing on the size, mate­r­i­al and sell­er.

Suit­able for shoot­ing and plas­tic prisms. The only point is that they can quick­ly scratch.

Spher­i­cal prisms are also often used in pho­tog­ra­phy. Strict­ly speak­ing, from the point of view of physics, this is not a prism. But nev­er­the­less, such an acces­so­ry is used in pho­tog­ra­phy and allows you to cre­ate sim­i­lar inter­est­ing effects in pic­tures.

Shoot­ing through the sphere — a fre­quent tech­nique for the past few years / Pho­to: unsplash.com

There are drop-shaped prisms and prisms of com­plex shapes. They also give an inter­est­ing effect.

Some crafts­men use glass beads or pen­dants from an old chan­de­lier as a drop-shaped prism / Pho­to: pixy.org

There are also lens fil­ters with small prisms built into them and frac­tal fil­ters. They screw direct­ly onto the lens and also allow you to cre­ate cre­ative effects when shoot­ing.

The result of shoot­ing through a frac­tal fil­ter / Pho­to: gridfiti.com

There are fil­ters that have small prisms built into them. They also allow you to cre­ate inter­est­ing effects. Using these, by the way, is much eas­i­er and more con­ve­nient than shoot­ing with a con­ven­tion­al tri­an­gu­lar prism, which you have to con­stant­ly hold in your hand.

The only neg­a­tive: when using a fil­ter, the prisms are fixed in one posi­tion. This leaves less free­dom for cre­ativ­i­ty / Pho­to: photar.ru

If you’ve nev­er shot with a prism and don’t know exact­ly what result you want, it’s best to start with a sim­ple tri­an­gu­lar prism. Unlike frac­tal fil­ters, it allows you to cre­ate more dif­fer­ent effects and bet­ter mas­ter work­ing with prisms in gen­er­al.

The main ques­tion when choos­ing a prism is what you are going to shoot with. Shoot­ing with a prism in this regard is very demo­c­ra­t­ic. With its help, you can get a spec­tac­u­lar pic­ture both on a cool DSLR and on a bud­get smart­phone.

The size of the prism depends on the lens size of the gad­get you are going to shoot with. For opti­mum effect, the prism should cov­er one-third to one-half of the lens. If you want to shoot com­plete sur­re­al­ism, you need to take a prism that com­plete­ly hides the lens.

For a smart­phone, a 15-cm prism is bet­ter suit­ed. For shoot­ing on cam­era, you can choose a larg­er option / Pho­to: unsplash.com

The first thing to do when work­ing with a prism is to wipe it. It does­n’t mat­ter if it’s crys­tal, glass or plas­tic. Fin­ger­prints or dirt on the prism will get in your way. To clean the prism, a reg­u­lar optics cloth will do.

Rain­bow high­lights. To get a flare, the prism must be held near the lens, but not brought into the frame. You can cre­ate a pho­to with a rain­bow high­light only if there is a light source: the sun or arti­fi­cial.

To get a flare, we bring the prism into the beam of light and twist until the flare appears in the frame.

It is best to shoot with the sun, with it you get iri­des­cent high­lights. From the lantern you can get just white high­lights / Pho­to: glamourmagazine.co.uk

Lanterns and oth­er sources of arti­fi­cial light are a lit­tle more dif­fi­cult. To get a rain­bow, you need the light that flies into the prism to have a full spec­trum. This means that the com­po­si­tion must con­tain waves of dif­fer­ent lengths — oth­er­wise the prism will have noth­ing to scat­ter and there will be no rain­bow. And for inex­pen­sive flash­lights, the light may not con­tain waves of the entire spec­trum, so some­times instead of rain­bow high­lights, white ones are obtained.

Reflec­tions. To get reflec­tions, the prism must cov­er part of the frame. Bring it to the cam­era and try to move and rotate. The effect that a prism will have is very depen­dent on the angle of rota­tion, the direc­tion of the light, and the prox­im­i­ty to the lens.

Prism loves light. The most inter­est­ing effects can be obtained where there is a lot of light: solar or arti­fi­cial / Pho­to: unsplash.com

The dis­tance to the lens, by the way, is very impor­tant. If you twist the prism, but you can’t achieve a beau­ti­ful reflec­tion, try remov­ing the hood. The pic­ture will change a lot.

Safe­ty pre­cau­tions: the prism must be kept close to the lens, but not pressed with edges and cor­ners so as not to scratch the lens / Pho­to: unsplash.com

The prism can be brought to the lens from dif­fer­ent sides and at dif­fer­ent angles. And each time the effects will be dif­fer­ent.

Kalei­do­scope. An inter­est­ing sur­re­al frame can be obtained if the prism is brought to the cam­era with a straight butt.

Hold the prism like this. The pho­to becomes like a view from a kalei­do­scope / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Fotosklad.Expert

This effect is eas­i­est to achieve with a smart­phone. Because in order to get a kalei­do­scope, it is nec­es­sary that the prism com­plete­ly cov­ers the lens.

Prism is like a mir­ror. With the help of a prism, you can cre­ate such sur­re­al shots:

A sim­i­lar effect could be achieved with a small mir­ror / Pho­to: unsplash.com

There is anoth­er non-obvi­ous way to use a prism: for exam­ple, when you need to hide some object at the edge of the frame. We bring the prism in such a way that there is a reflec­tion in place of an unsym­pa­thet­ic urn or some­thing else. And that’s it, no prob­lem.

No one will know that in the upper right cor­ner there was a win­dow cov­ered with blue poly­eth­yl­ene / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

Also, the prism can be used to shoot events, from which the pho­tos are often quite monot­o­nous. For exam­ple, such a prob­lem can arise when shoot­ing con­certs.

A pho­to with a prism allows you to diver­si­fy the pic­tures and add addi­tion­al mean­ings to them. This tech­nique is often used by con­cert pho­tog­ra­phers / Pho­to: lensbaby.com

Some prism effects can be eas­i­ly sim­u­lat­ed in Pho­to­shop. They will be even more man­age­able than the high­lights and reflec­tions that are cre­at­ed with a prism. But on the oth­er hand, for this addi­tion of effects in post-pro­cess­ing, they don’t like it — this approach deprives the pho­to of some spon­tane­ity and an ele­ment of the game, which just gives work with a prism.

Add high­lights to pho­tos using Adobe Pho­to­shop. To begin with, we need a frame on which we will apply high­lights, and some pic­tures with iso­lat­ed high­lights. The eas­i­est way to find them is on one of the pho­to stocks. For exam­ple, sim­i­lar images can be down­loaded for free at unsplash.com and pixabay.com. We enter “light leaks” in the search query, and the stock gives sev­er­al hun­dred options that can be used.

The “prism” and “gra­di­ent” queries also work well / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Fotosklad.Expert

Open our image in Pho­to­shop, add the down­loaded high­light to it as a new lay­er (read how to work with lay­ers here). Set it to blend mode Screen

Ready. Now the high­light can be rotat­ed, reflect­ed, dis­tort­ed, removed using masks / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

You can also try to sim­u­late oth­er prism effects in Pho­to­shop, using the pos­si­bil­i­ties of lay­ers and masks, exper­i­ment­ing with blend­ing modes. But this requires more time and skills in deal­ing with graph­ic edi­tors.

So the best way to get the prism effect is to shoot with a prism. Above all else, it’s fun.