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Saturday, July 1, 2006

Selective Focus Made Easy


Lensbabies create a distinctive look with your digital SLR.

Labels: How-ToLensesGear

Selective Focus Made Easy

Photographers love accessories that help them create unique-looking images. With many photographers owning the same cameras and lenses, it's exciting to find a product that provides us with the ability to create a distinctive photograph. The Lensbaby 2.0 gives photographers the flexibility to explore our individual creativity.

The Lensbaby 2.0 is a lens with a flexible barrel that, when pushed, pulled and/or bent, creates a dynamic-looking image with a relatively narrow plane of focus. You can create effects similar to those of a Lensbaby using Photoshop, but that takes you longer as you plow through various layers of filtering. A distinct advantage to Lensbabies is that you can experiment on location because you see the resulting distortion effect in your viewfinder.

The effect that a Lensbaby achieves is called selective focus, whereby a selected part of your image is in focus and the balance is less so. When we look at pictures, our automatic brain (as my university professor called it; not the technical term, I'm sure) searches for items that are familiar, comfortable and easy to understand. This causes us to quickly scan an image, searching for anything sharp and understandable. If nothing in the image is in focus, we eventually realize that the intent may be abstract, step back and evaluate.

The Lensbaby 2.0 lets you take advantage of the brain's search for something sharp by providing you with complete control over the plane of focus, which is normally only available with large-format view cameras or expensive tilt-shift lenses.

A Lensbaby comes with a series of magnetic aperture rings (ƒ/2.0, ƒ/4.0, ƒ/5.6 and ƒ/8), which simply drop into the front of the lens; these aperture rings control depth of field. To focus a Lensbaby, use your fingers to compress the lens toward you or push the lens away from you. By pulling it toward you, the Lensbaby focuses to infinity; push it away from you and it focuses up to a foot away.

When you've found the ideal range to focus, tilt the Lensbaby up, down or from side to side. The degree to which you tilt the barrel of the lens affects the degree of directional blur.

The biggest challenge with a Lensbaby is not to get carried away. Much like shooting with a fisheye lens, the effect can become intoxicating and you can easily spend your time creating images that might be better shot with a conventional lens. The lens is best used when there's a key element within the frame: a single tree, a solitary animal or the look in someone's eyes that tells the entire story. Use the Lensbaby variable plane of focus to bring attention to a subject.

I've used the Lensbaby when the shot I wanted had a less-than-pleasing background. With a narrow depth of field and an exaggerated blur, I can make a picture with a creative distortion that avoids unsightly backgrounds. And I've enjoyed exploring flowers with the Lensbaby macro kit, which allows you to get close to the flowers in your garden. Ultimately, Lensbabies can help you see and think creatively and, if used appropriately, you can make memorable images. List Price: $150.

Contact: Lensbabies, (877) 536-7222, www.lensbabies.com.


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