Using a Prism to Shoot Portraits
Over the last few months I have been noticing these really cool portraits on INSTAGRAM. They would often be close up images of someone standing next to a neon sign, with some kind of reflection of the neon lights overlaid on the image. At first I thought these images were created in PhotoShop, but after some research on YouTube I found that they were actually taken with the use of a prism; a simple glass prism!
A quick search of Amazon and a few days later my prism arrived and I was ready to head out and see what I could do with it. In the video I watched it was recommended to stick with a 35mm or 50mm lens and shoot wide open at f/1.4 or what ever is the largest aperture of your lens. This will get the best bokeh and nicest look for these kinds of images.
My first try at using the prism had me walking around Shinjuku Station with friend and EXILE member Sekai. I picked Shinjuku as I thought it would have lots of cool neon lights that I could use in the portraits, but it was actually really hard to find anything I liked and could use. In the end we got some decent images, one you can see here, but we were both hoping for more.
A few weeks after taking these shots I got a message from Sekai saying that the guys at EXILE Magazine really liked the images and that they wanted me to try the prism technique for a feature with Sekai in the magazine, yea! This time Sekai had the idea to head out to Chinatown in Yokohama. I had not been there in MANY years, so it was great to have a reason to check it out.
I arrived first so decided to check out Chinatown and see if I could find any good locations to use with the prism. Most of the images I saw on INSTAGRAM had people standing by neon signs, so I started by looking for these...and could find ANY! haha. I was really surprised I couldn't find anything that looked like I was hopping, but as Sekai and the magazine guys were going to arrive any minuet, I had to try something.
When using the prism you basically hold it up right in front of the camera lens, and move it around at different angles to capture some kind of reflection of the lights around you. It can be frustrating at first, but really quite interesting to see how the prism catches the surrounding light, and how you can overlay that over the original image. Its pretty cool when you try it and interesting what pops out.
After trying several locations around Chinatown I noticed these bright yellow Chinese lanterns that were strung above the street to look like a dragon. It looked really cool, but I didn't think I would be able to pick them up with the prism. But...as Sekai was chatting with the magazine people I thought why not give it a try, and after a little playing I was able to get the lanterns in the shot! And it looked super cool! hahaha. So from there I kept taking portrait style images of Sekai, and then even got him to dance a little at the side of the street. People started to gather and seemed interested in what we were doing, but they were all Chinese people working in the local shops so I don't think anyone actually knew who Sekai was, just that some guy was dancing in the street.
In the end the magazine people were super happy with the shots, and I got 4 full pages in the March issue of EXILE月刊. Moral of the blog, trying new things is fun, and can lead to new jobs, which is always a nice thing! If you have any questions about shooting with a prism please leave a comment below.
Here are a few more images I liked from the night: