The Art of Refraction in Photography

June 16, 2013 in Behind the Lens by Amanda

They're Watching

Okay, so I’m sure you’ve seen these kinds of pictures before. When you first saw them you stared and stared thinking to yourself, how did the photographer do that? It had to be Photoshop! Although, you can do pretty much anything in Photoshop these days, this stunning little trick you don’t need Photoshop for. Sometimes you can be lucky enough to find it in nature, but other times you have to do a little prep work behind the scenes. Let me introduce you to the art of refraction.

What is refraction?

Well, according to science it has this big fancy shmancy technical definition, but for the sake of photography let’s just say it’s the inversion of something. (See, my Applied Science degree for photographic technology is going to come in handy because I’m teaching you guys how to apply science to your photography!) This means that when you have a cute little water droplet just chilling it can act as a prism that flips an upside down image right side up.

How do you create this effect?

Not everyone is lucky enough to have nature bless them with this Kodak moment, but there is a way to do it on your own. Flowers are a popular choice for refracting in water droplets, but there are a ton of creative possibilities out there to have fun experimenting with. You can go outside and compose your image with plants and flowers around and simply use a dropper to place water droplets around until you can see the image you want being refracted in the droplet or you can become Dr. Frankenstein like I did and set up your own little lab indoors if you don’t have enough foliage accessible to you.

I used a photograph of a daisy I had previously taken and flipped it upside down in the background. You can use any kind of picture you want for this. I would suggest something with a main, prominent focal point though. Then I simply draped the vine of a house plant in front of the photograph and began placing water droplets along the vine with the dropper. The most difficult part of this process is getting the water droplets to stay in place, but with a little persistence and patience you’ll get it to work. It’s really cool to see the image become right side up in the droplet. When you line everything up, you can start composing and snapping away!

Hope you enjoy and have fun with this little trick! I can’t wait to see what pictures you end up taking. Don’t forget to connect with me on Flickr!