Using the Fractal Filters Subtly for Portraits

Fractal Filters Prism Photography

The Fractal Filters can sometimes be seen as something of a sledgehammer of an effect. They’re a hefty piece of glass attached to something that looks like a knuckle-duster. They don’t exactly scream “subtle”, and yet, it’s pretty easy to use them in low-key and understated ways.

I had a photoshoot with Sammy in the Yorkshire Dales last week and took it as an opportunity to work on my skills with the Fractal Filters. I’ve used them on a number of shoots, but every situation and location is different, and it’s interesting to see how the prisms react to different kinds of lighting.

Fractal Filters Prism Photography
Fractal Filter used on the top edge of the photo to further blur the woodland and create a halo effect.

They can also be used to further blur the background and add a light haze, which I felt worked well in the black & white photo above, adding something of a dreamy, vintage look to the image.

To achieve the look I used the Penrose filter (the one that looks a bit like Pac-man) and just held it really close to the lens, being sure that Sammy was not obscured by any part of the filter. This image was on a 50mm lens at f1.8 on my Pentax K3II (APS-C, so FF people would need something around 75mm for the same focal length). Being at a wide aperture really helps to smooth out the effect caused by the filter and blend it in with the blurred background. The Fractals are generally intended to be used at wide apertures, but it would have been interesting to see how much higher I could have gone with the aperture to see what the cut-off would be when the filter was too obvious and distracting. I’d guess anything above f5.6 wouldn’t look good to my taste.

Fractal Filters Prism Photography

I bought those funky prism sunglasses last year (thank you cheap sellers on eBay!) with a view to using them in a Fractal shoot. I don’t think a woodland is an appropriate location, especially when it’s an overcast and damp day in the Yorkshire Dales. This look isn’t what I’d envisioned for the glasses, but this image does highlight how a Fractal Filter can pull different colours out of a scene and create some more intrigue by altering the background (technically the foreground, I suppose).

This one was shot with the big and chunky Pascal filter, which is one of the easiest to use at first, especially if you just stick to using the edge of it. Shooting through it is a whole other ball game and takes more time and effort, so it’s not something that I’d be doing on a shoot like this one where I’ve just met a model for the first time and having a smooth workflow (and enjoying myself) is more important to me than pushing my prism skills.

These two were both taken using the Julia filter. That’s the filter with a flat centre spot, which allows you to put the subject in the middle of the frame and have all the craziness going on outside of your main focal point.

This is the design where I find it hardest to create a subtle look, and images taken with it are likely to have the effect as the focus as much as your subject. That’s not a bad thing in some cases, but when you’re doing a simple portrait shoot out in a forest it can be an out of place look, and during this shoot I didn’t use the Julia filter much as it didn’t fit with the feel I was going for. I still like these images but in this case I don’t feel that the effect adds much, if anything, and that mostly comes down to my lack of experience with the Julia filter and that I was trying to shoehorn it into a situation that it wasn’t appropriate for.

Some of my favourite images by other photographers with the Julia filter have lots of colour and additional light sources behind the subject which can create something special. In the conditions I was in it’s harder to pull out anything that’s really special with this kind of backdrop and a lack of sunshine to provide some interesting refraction to add colour to the shots.

Rigu is the UK & Europe’s only distributor of the Fractal Filters, offering quick despatch and delivery, with no customs import hassles. They are listed on, but they’re under the global shipping programme, so you would be waiting for them to come from the US, and you’d be paying more.

Compared to purchasing direct from the manufacturer you will save money (before and after factoring in customs import charges) as well as benefiting from much quicker delivery and UK customer support.