Have you wondered how get some of those strange blurs and soft-focus on my photos? Well, I will let you into a secret it isn’t through Photoshop magic; I use a lens system called “Lensbaby”. Lensbaby is company that makes a series of creative lens – the Lensbaby system. I call it a “system” as it a few lenses and attachments that you can mix together, depending on what kind of photography you are interested in. The Lensbaby attaches to your camera like any other lens (they have mounts for Canon EF (EOS), Nikon F, Sony Alpha A / Minolta Maxxum, Pentax K / Samsung GX / Sigma SD, Olympus 4/3). There are few different kinds of lenses in the range, to keep it simple I will just talk about the Composer/Composer Pro.(The Composer has been discontinued in the US but you will still be able to pick-up on e-Bay or similar).
The Composer Pro works the same kind of way, so everything I talk about applies to both.
The first thing to realize is the Composer Pro is all manual, that means that focussing and aperture are not controlled by your camera. Don’t be alarmed about this – using it is easy enough! You select the aperture disk and then drop-into the body of the Composer. Lensbay works best with larger apertures (f2.8 – f4).
When you buy the Composer it will come with the Double Glass optic. The “optic” is the lens itself. The Composer is little more than the housing in which you can drop-in various types of optics.
Once you have the aperture disk in place you are ready to start shooting. Switch your camera to Aperture priority and let the camera figure-out the exposure. I find that my camera seems to under-expose with the Lensbaby so check your histogram and increase exposure if required.
Looking through the viewfinder you will notice that the edges of the frame look very blurred (the wider your aperture, the greater this effect). The part of the image in focus is often called the “sweet spot”. To get your subject into focus just adjust the focus ring. The Double Glass optic has a sharp sweet spot and is the best optic to start-out with. This all sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, using the Lensbaby can be a bit tricky and takes practise. I suggest using, say f8 or larger while you get used to focussing. A common practice with Lensbaby is to “focus bracket”; this is a fancy way of saying focus and then take a few photos on either side of the focus sweet spot. Depending on your aperture, you can do this by just moving back and forward slightly.
As with any manual focussing, it pays to make sure your dioptric adjust is set correctly for our eyesight. (More of an issue for those of us over 40 ). Check-out your camera manual if you’re not sure how to this.
The Composer is built-around a ball and socket design that allows you to move the lens around. So you can swivel the lens and this is what really makes that magic happen!. You can create dramatic and exciting images by simply moving the lens. This takes practise but you will find that even your “mistakes” can look really cool! Here is what my kit looks like:
You can see that I have the f4 aperture fitted to my optic here:
To finish-up here are the optics I have and what you can use them for:
- Double Glass – The standard Lensbaby lens and great for those photos which look best with a sharp focal point. You can use this with the swivel on the lens to create some neat tilt-shift effects; at the fraction of a cost of a dedicated tilt-shift lens.
- Single Glass – My second favourite lens, this one has a softer sweet spot and more lens flare than the Double Glass. A really portrait and baby lens. The blur is more graduated and not so extreme with this one.
- Plastic - Wonderful for lomo and those “classic” looks of yesteryear. Combine this with some sun or other string light source and watch those lovely artefacts appear! I like this one at the beach at summer to create some nice 70s type images. Use some monochrome conversions with these images for that extra magic.
- Pinhole and Zone Plate – A challenge to focus this one due to the limited amount of light that passes through that tiny aperture. Make sure you use a tripod with this one. You can expect some images full of mystery once you get the hang of focussing; landscapes which look like they were shot in 1880!
- Super Wide angle – this is a screw-on attachment, which increases the range of capture by giving an effective focal length of 21mm. This lens will allow you to focus very closely as well; good for flower shots.
Here is a quick video where I show how it all hangs together (watch on Vimeo for the larger size version:
Here are some examples I’ve shot with my Lensbaby: