Lensbaby Fun.

Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth, NH shot with Lensbaby Composer.
Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth, NH shot with Lensbaby Composer.

Back in February at the NANPA Summit in Reno, I finally succumbed to the temptation to buy a Lensbaby.  Lensbabies are relatively inexpensive (around $300.00) plastic lenses that you can twist and turn in any direction to create an image with very selective focus.  When these were first introduced 6 or 7 years ago, I resisted. I had spent much of my early photography career working hard to make landscape images that were tack sharp from front to back, and with a Lensbaby, it is hard to get anything sharp.  But I'm older and wiser (I wish!) now and open to different photo styles, but basically I think when I bought the Lensbaby Composer in Reno I was looking for anything to inspire me out of a photographic rut.

Tulip shot with a Lensbaby Composer and 4x close-up filter.
Tulip shot with a Lensbaby Composer and 4x close-up filter.

After a few months of shooting with the Lensbaby, I do feel out of my rut, but honestly, I'm still working to understand how best to use this tool.  It is definitely a lot of fun, but it can be hard to focus and it doesn't work well with every subject.  With the very selective focus of the Lensbaby, you need a very strong main subject in your composition, and you need to make sure that subject is in focus. I am using live-view on my Canon 5D Mark II a lot when shooting with the Lensbaby - locking in my compostion, and zooming in to 10x to check sharpness and refine focus.  Mostly, the Lensbaby is fun to play around with.  Not only do things look completely different through the view finder, you also get to play with lots of stuff.  To change the aperture on a Lensbaby, you have to physically swap out little magnetic aperture discs (O.K. I'm a geek, but I think it's cool to change my aperture this way.)  I also bought some of the accessories to go with my Composer - the Optics kit, which lets you swap out the optic for different looks (basically  - soft, blurry, and more blurry,) the wide angle and telephoto attachments, and the close-up filters. All are relatively inexpensive compared to most lenses and filters.

Since I'm new to this Lensbaby stuff, I thought I'd ask official Lensbaby Guru, Corey Hilz, for five tips for shooting with a Lensbaby. By the way, Corey's new book, Lensbaby: Bending Your Perspective, is scheduled for release in August.  Here are Corey's tips:

Streaking effect with Lensbaby.
Streaking effect with Lensbaby.

1. To create a strong a strong streaking effect, bend the lens to the extreme.  Any direction will do: left, right, up or down.  The further you bend the lens, the stronger the streaking.  It's actually possible to bend the lens so far that the area in focus is outside the viewfinder...so bring it back a little if you can't get anything in focus.

2.  While the Lensbaby look is soft to start with, if you want an incredibly ethereal image, try shooting with no aperture disc at all.  Lensbabies come with the f/4 aperture disc inserted - use the aperture tool to take the disc out and then fire away.

Peacock shot with Lensbaby single glass optic with no aperture disc.

3.  When using the Plastic or Single Glass Optics, try shooting towards a bright light source.  You can get some pretty cool flare effects, such as shimmering rainbow colors because these optics are uncoated.  Experiment with photographing at different angles to the light source to find the best spot to create the flare.

4. When using the Macro Kit to shoot close-ups with your Lensbaby, try using a small aperture disc, such as f/11, f/16 or even f/22.  Because of the magnification, even a small aperture isn't going to bring a lot into sharp focus.  You'll still have a soft background, but your subject will be more distinct.

Lensbaby Fisheye.
Beach scene shot with Lensbaby Fisheye lens.

5. The Fisheye Optic's distortion creates a dramatic perspective when you get in really close to a subject. And I mean really close, like a few inches away.  When you're that close, it isn't always possible to look through the viewfinder, especially if your subject is down on the ground.  In those cases, use Live View if your camera has it.  You can hold the camera comfortably in front of you, using the LCD screen to compose and focus.

Thanks for the tips Corey! Check out Corey's work and workshop schedule at coreyhilz.com.

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