How to Create and Photograph Gorgeous Refractographs

Refractographs are photographs of the beautiful patterns formed when light reflects and refracts through an object. Stunning as they look, you would think that there was a lot of post processing or digital manipulation involved, but there’s not, and in the above video, photographer Rob Turney gives you a step-by-step guide to taking them yourself.


All you’ll need to take a refractograph is an SLR sans lens, a tripod, a glass or plastic refracting object, a bright light source (e.g. LED flashlight), a piece of cardboard with a pin hole in it, some tape, something to attach your light source to, and something to hold your refracting object in place with. If you want to add color to your refractographs you’ll also need to use some colored gels.


Once you’ve got everything, just point your light source at your refracting object (placed right in front of the lens-less SLR) and shoot some long exposures while you use the gels to inject color. You’ll have to play around with light source distance and object positioning, but once you get it right, the final products should look something like the examples spread throughout this post.


Head over to Turney’s website for a whole gallery of breathtaking refractographs, and if that’s not enough, you can always check out the refractography group on Flickr.

Thanks for sending in the tip, Laurie!

Image credits: Photographs by Rob Turney

  • chubbs

    Definitely going to try this!!!!

  • rob turney

    Thanks for the article! big fan of petapixel!

  • Chris

    My first thought: Great way to get dust all over your sensor :/

  • DafOwen

    Thought similar.
    But also wondered – Would modern SLR’s allow you to take a picture without a lens mounted ?

  • james

    They do.

  • Jay Scott

    This is on my list for next winter. Beautiful work, Rob. Thank you for sharing your techniques.

  • IanGMcIntosh

    Love this stuff. I’m going to get busy with making some refractographs. Thanks Rob, for this very clear and concise tutorial.

    Chris… I McGivored a body cap and 49 mm UV filter together to deal with the dust issue.

    Alan Jaras, who is mentioned in the video, deals with the issue by shooting film. There’s no dust , since he has a new “light sensor” for each frame.

  • 3ric15

    Of course they do…

  • 3ric15

    Mine look so bad :(

  • inconcienzia

    great tutorial!! thank you, i’ll try right now!!

  • morgan

    mine does not. nx2000 can someone help me plz ?