A rock formation on the Maine coast is flipped vertically and horizontally in a crystal ball. Credit: Courtesy of Carmon Parker

With so many people taking photos with smartphones nowadays, it can be challenging to create a photo that’s noticeably unique, especially at popular outdoor destinations such as mountaintops, beaches and waterfalls. Yet sometimes all it takes is a new angle or interesting weather or — in Carmon Parker’s case — a crystal ball.

This past winter, Parker, a special education teacher and frequent hiker from Brunswick, started pursuing two hobbies: hiking and photography, but with a twist.

To create one-of-a-kind images of the Maine wilderness, she began photographing it through the shiny surface of a crystal ball — you know, the kind you might look into to see your future?

“My mom had bought it for me to go with tarot card reading,” Parker said.

A crystal ball flips a rocky coastline at Reid State Park in Georgetown. Credit: Courtesy of Carmon Parker

Just a little larger than a baseball, the clear ball flips images vertically and horizontally, and reflects light in interesting ways. This results in some truly fascinating photos, if you set the ball up just right, Parker said.

“I’ve just been experimenting and playing around,” she said. “I’ve noticed that if there’s something remarkable in the background, that’s what really turns into a good shot.”

Parker received a Canon Rebel T6 camera nearly two years ago for her 30th birthday, but she struggled to find time to use it — until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“I lost my second job and the school [where I work] shut down and I couldn’t go to the gym,” Parker said. “Everything was taken away. It was a really hard time for me and everyone else in the world.”

Parker decided to embrace her newfound free time by hitting the trails with her camera, and eventually, her crystal ball.

“I had time to do what I wanted to do,” she said. “From there, I just took off with it. It was kind of like my form of therapy because I couldn’t be with my students or best friends. It was a form of self care.”

She received inspiration and encouragement from a friend, Ashley Langtry of Brunswick, who is a professional portrait and family photographer. In December, Langtry had purchased a Lensball, which is a crystal ball created specifically for photographers to use in their photography.

A crystal ball flips a beach scene so the sand and water is above the sky. Credit: Courtesy of Carmon Parker

“It’s kind of kitschy, but it’s a fun thing to play around with,” Langtry said. “I had played with another photographer’s Lensball a couple of years back and liked it.”

Langtry showed the Lensball to Parker, which spurred her to purchase her own, smaller and cheaper version of the product. The ball was just a little larger than a marble, Parker said, and it worked well. But then she got to thinking … Why wouldn’t her larger crystal ball, a tool intended for divination, work just the same?

It did. In fact, the larger crystal ball was more fun to work with because it could display more of the landscape in her photos, she said. So far, she’s taken the crystal ball on multiple hikes in Harpwell and to Reid State Park in Georgetown. This week, she plans to take it to Sugarloaf for some snowy scenes.

“I haven’t even been out with mine yet,” Langtry said. “But Carmon was just inspired and has created all of these cool images.”

Photographing with the crystal ball is a lot of experimentation, Parker said. So far, she’s learned that placing the ball in front of large, dramatic objects — such as oceanside boulders — can result in some interesting images. Water and sky combinations can be fascinating, since the ball flips the scene so the water is over the sky. And if she sets the crystal ball in just the right position, she can see a reflection of herself in its smooth surface.

Sand and sun reflect in a crystal ball at Reid State Park in Georgetown. Credit: Courtesy of Carmon Parker

Parker has also played with how sunlight filters through and reflects off the crystal. And in one case, she was shocked to learn just how much the ball amplifies that light and heat.

“I was at the Giant’s Stairs [Trail on Bailey Island] and it was a super sunny day,” she said. “I had these thin gloves on, not thinking, and I had the ball in my hand. The sun was directly on it and it started to burn through my glove and hurt. I thought, ‘Oh my god. Lesson learned. That could have been an eye.’”

Now she carries the crystal ball in her backpack until she’s ready to use it.

In recent months, Parker has received a lot of positive feedback about her photos on Facebook (specifically on the group Maine Hiking) and through her Instagram, @carmon_dee. This summer, she plans to spend time outside with her camera every day if possible. And while she’s interested in experimenting with other types of photography, she’ll often be toting around that crystal ball, just in case she comes across the perfect scene for a little magic.

Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn Sarnacki is a Maine outdoors writer and the author of three Maine hiking guidebooks including “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Find her on Twitter and Facebook @1minhikegirl. You can also...