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Home photography ideas: Shoot optical illusions in a glass, in your kitchen!

Watch video: Home photography ideas – Abstract refractions in your kitchen!

Want to capture a fascinating optical illusion to impress your friends? In this project we’re going to show you how the refractive properties of a glass filled with water can create magical distortion effects when placed in front of patterned or colored backgrounds. 

In our main example we’ve used a colorful two-tone backdrop, and the optical effect of looking through a glass of water has magically switched the colors around. However, similarly eye-dazzling effects can be achieved with monochrome mosaics and other patterns. 

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The technique is simple and, what’s more, you don’t need any special equipment! All you need is some natural light, a standard zoom (such as your kit lens), a couple of colorful backdrops (which you can print yourself) and a glass receptacle or container of your choice. 

Simply fill it with water and look through it, and you will instantly see the distorting effects of refraction! So grab a glass and let’s get started…

01 Make a background

02 Mount your background

We found that a cereal box is the perfect size to mount your background, using tape, to keep it upright. We placed our box on top of a couple of thick books to accommodate the size of our chosen glass.

03 Camera and settings

04 Beware the light

To achieve a pleasing shot without using flash you'll need to work in a bright room with lots of ambient light, but don’t set up in bright sunshine by a window as you’ll get too many reflections. If reflections are an issue, you can flag the light – we used another couple of tall books, which worked perfectly.

05 Focus and compose

Enable Live View to compose your image, and zoom into the base of the glass using the camera's magnification function. Now focus manually for accuracy, using focus peaking if your camera has it. Exposures will be relatively slow, so you might want to use a wireless remote, your phone or a shutter release cable to trigger the shot.

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