Prism lenses: The Photography Tool You're Missing Out On

Prism lenses: The Photography Tool You're Missing Out On

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Prism photography uses specialized lenses (prism lenses) of adding some creative effects to photos. From rainbow color effects to dreamy reflections, prisms can bend light, yielding stunning results. You could even use it to remove unwanted photograph elements.

The best part about prism photography is that it can take place without Photoshop. Working with this technique demands learning by trial and error. After all, numerous changing factors affect the outcome. These include the prism’s shape and size, the light angle, and the angle at which you hold the prism, etc.

That said, you don’t require a lot in terms of gear. You simply need a camera and a prism. So, let’s deep dive into the world of prism lens and photography.

What is a Prism Lens?

The term denotes a type of lens with an unique ability to bend glare, light, and reflections before allowing these to penetrate a camera lens. Prisming doesn’t require post-editing and the results are frequently more impressive and natural than their photo-manipulated counterparts.

You can also use the technique to generate a kaleidoscope effect. To achieve this, you simply need to position the prism such that one of the bases faces the lens. Once you determine an interesting object to shoot, proceed to photograph it. This effect further gives you the illusion of movement in a stationary image. For optimal results, make sure the prism covers a greater part of the lens.

Prism lens vs prism filter

Prism filters are accessories that can be attached to the lens to develop special in-camera effects. They further come with in-built prism effects. Typically, they create various effects including split glass; chromatic flare; and prism. The prism filter adds flares and bokeh to images while the chromatic filter enhances streak or anamorphic flares. On the other hand, the split filter adds light leak or fractal effects.

The convenience of using filters is that you attach them to your lens, leaving both hands free to hold your camera. They are also variable, which means you can rotate them to alter the effect. They produce the following results:


Numerous repeating images in one photo look great and filters allow this effect through refraction. Whether you use it for portraits or other styles of photography, it’s up to you.

Rainbow image

The prism-like effect of filters can produce rainbow effects across your image. This image section stands the chance of facing distortion and functions as a frame for the photo’s clearer, sharper segment less affected by prisms.

When it comes to a prism lens, the prism should fit in front of the lens. It shouldn’t be much bigger than the shooting gear. A suitable fractal shouldn’t be too tiny for you to hold conveniently and manipulate it accordingly. Remember, all prisms are technically filters rather than lenses because they function as lens elements instead of the lens itself.

What is Prisming and Prism Photography or Prism Videography?

Prisming describes a technique where you reflect images in front of a camera lens with a prism. A photography prism is just a triangular prism that can reflect light and generate a distinct photo effect. Typically, the prism is made of glass and functions best with a light source running through your chosen prism.

The initiation of this technique took place in the 80s and over the years, it has undergone reinvention by the likes of Fractal Filters.

The technique adds incredible versatility while extending a lens’s optical system. It works by manipulating light before recording occurs on the camera’s sensor. By extending your lens system, prisms offer an incredible degree of creative control and precision. Prisms thrive in lackluster settings or areas with unfavorable lighting.

Prism Photography

This technique uses a prism to refract, bend, or scatter light on a subject. You can use the in-camera effect to produce organic, flare, and real-life distortions. For optimum results in prism photography, you’ll do what you would ordinarily do to set up a good headshot or portrait. The fundamentals that constitute a good portrait must be the foundation.

For instance, the amount of light that penetrates a camera is crucial to obtaining favorable results with a prism. Although prism photography depends on sunlight, you want to avoid direct overhead light outdoors because it isn’t ideal for prism effects.

It’s worth noting that prisming sessions are different and the only way to learn how to attain the desired outcomes is through practice. Practice will help you develop an intuitive sense of how tools interact.

Prism Videography

You can enhance videos while adding interesting effects as you film them in many ways. One way involves the use of prisms. You can position a triangular prism in front of the lens. Some even come with a mount that permits you to fix it into a tripod or attach it in front of the lens. Besides a triangular prism, you can try a tear or round-shaped prism for interesting effects.

Using a DIY Prism Lens to Create Creative Photography Effects

If you’re looking to save money, you might consider undertaking a DIY prism project.

What you’ll need

  • Water
  • Clear glass
  • Flashlight or another light source
  • Two paper sheets


Put water in a glass such that it’s more than half full. Position the glass on the edge of a table or a flat surface such that nearly half the glass’s bottom hangs over the edge.You want to make sure the glass doesn’t fall over the edge.

Position the paper side by side on the floor beside the table and turn on the flashlight while pointing it towards the glass. The light needs to penetrate through the glass and onto the paper sheets on the floor.

Adjust the paper and flashlight’s position until you can view the characteristic rainbow on the paper. This might need trial and error to obtain the right angles. You might also obtain more than one rainbow.


The sun can act as a substitute of a white light source. You can place the glass (it acts like the prism lens) on a window sill edge and adjust the position for the sunlight to create the prism effect. You could also develop a prism with a CD. You’ll just have to poke a tiny hole in an aluminum foil and fold it over a flashlight. You could also shine the flashlight onto the CD’s back or simply hold the CD to a light, enabling the back to face the light bulb.

While DIY prisms can still work, beware that some might lack quality, causing images to lose sharpness or making it hard to focus. You might end up positioning the glass where you won’t obtain the desired effects.

Alternatively, you could use a triangular prism to create interesting effects. You’ll find it’s easier to control and hold while photographing. When used properly, it can generate concentrated rainbow projections, which you can direct straight onto a subject. These can be great substitutes for prism lenses.

If you don’t want to undertake the hassle of making a DIY prism lens, Fractals offer a great way of enabling prism photography/videography. Their design purposely allows them to refract and reflect light in particular ways to make pleasant effects. They’re easy to handle and can produce numerous effects.

How to Use a Prism Lens for Photography and Videography

If you are using a DSLR, you can select your lens. Keep in mind that a lens with wide aperture will produce softer images. Specifically, you want to try 35mm, 24mm, and 50mm lenses. Although a prism photograph can take place with any lens, you’ll want to consider these points.

Small apertures ranging from f/1.8 –f /3.5 will create a smoother transition between the covered and uncovered part of the lens.

Nonetheless, personal taste is a factor. For instance, if you prefer a stronger contrast between the two components, larger f-values can apply. Just note that this will equally impact your field depth.

If you adopt a larger f-value, you’ll have a bigger field depth, so you’ll have a sharper background. This could be positive or negative depending on the type of effect you expect from the prism photograph.

The 50mm Lens

50 mm f/1.8, f/2, f/1.4 or f/1.2 is the most significant lens to own. You’ll discover the lens is superior in virtually every facet, including ergonomics, optics, design, and performance. This contradicts popular misconceptions that assert that the lens is inferior in optical quality, build quality, and handling. Instead, the lens has superior mechanics and provides higher quality images over zoom lenses.

Generally, a 50mm lens has enhanced optical performance and outperforms other prime lenses in optical quality. Another benefit of the lens is that it permits photographers to fit sufficient items into the frame, giving viewers context about what’s happening in the surrounding scene.

In prisming, the focal length is perfect and allows you to shoot at f/1.2, f/1.4, or f/1.8 and still obtain great results. It also has the ideal form factor. You don’t need to extend your arm very far to position the prism before the lens. This results in a more convenient experience and permits more focus on the subject instead of ergonomics efficacy.

The Best Prism Lenses to Buy

Shooting through glass and prisms has become increasingly popular. A triangular prism is the most used among photographers. This shape generates bright and stunning rainbows by splitting light beams into various spectral components.

The bottom line

Prism photography isn't a new concept. But it is gaining fresh favors among today’s creative photographers and photography enthusiasts. Many have been exploiting the distinct, light-bending features of clear resins and glass to include an artistic flare to their images. If you're looking to enliven landscapes, portraits, and photographs, you might want to give this technique a shot.

Nikk Wong

Published by Nikk Wong

Nikk Wong is a photographer, probably very much like yourself. He began his career shooting weddings and portraits, but quickly became obsessed with prism photography. Now, he spends his time building lenses and products in an effort to bring the magic of prisming to a mainstream audience. (Can I stop talking about myself in third person now?) 🙃
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