Refractography has its charms, and as I experiment further I’m beginning to understand some of the secrets to great images. Read on to hear how this image was created!

This is a photograph of refracted light from a thin glass flower vase directly hitting my camera sensor with no lens on the camera. A flashlight shines light through the glass vase, which bends light in interesting ways through its curves and contours and spits out an interesting light pattern on the other side. This is the same phenomenon that creates bright patterns at the bottom of a swimming pool on a sunny day.

There are a few challenges, of course. The first being the direction of light. You’ll need the light to be traveling as straight as possible, and I use a Better Beamer fresnel lens to keep the light as focused as possible. Between the vase and the camera I also have a simple one-lens optic from an old film camera that I hold in my hands to refocus the light to the sensor on the other side. For those curious, it’s a Contaflex S 115mm.

The real trick is finding a “refractive object” or a combination of objects that results in an interesting pattern. Colour can be added either in Photoshop or by strategically placing coloured gel filters in the light path. Oh, and you’re pretty much guaranteed a dirty camera sensor after shooting this way. You’ve been warned!

As far as warnings go, also never ever use a laser. There is a good chance you’ll say goodbye to your camera sensor if a laser is part of the equation.

You can barely call this “photography” by the standard definition, but it’s a great way to understand light…. and understanding light makes you a better photographer!

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