All artists can fall into a creative rut. If you’re a novice photographer it can be difficult to find new ideas to work on. If you’re a pro you can cycle though the same old ideas and get bored or insecure about your talent. How can you break out of the routine of seeing things the same monotonous way? How can you force yourself to see differently while making the process effortless? Try using a Lensbaby on your camera. The Lensbaby lens system offers you the unlimited creativity of the Optic Swap System yet delivers results in a way that can offer new insights to your artistic spirit. Here’s how.
The Lensbaby is a system of Lenses that mount to your SLR or Mirrorless camera body. Then, there are special Optics that you can use with these lenses. Each Lensbaby lens comes with an optic installed. This optic can easily be removed and replaced with any of their 7 other optics. Each Lensbaby lens gives you access to our full line of creative effects. All of these creative effects are based on the ability to shift or tilt the focal plane of the lens. So you are controlling where and how the lens’ focus of that combination of lens and optics will view the subject you’re photographing.
There are three basic categories or functions of Lensbaby Lenses. They are Swivel, Squeeze and Straight. The swivel category is the higher end Composer models. These lenses have a ball rotation that allows you to move the center of focus anywhere within the field of view of the picture frame. Next is the squeeze category that comprise of the Muse and the new upgraded, Spark lenses. These lenses have a simple bellows that you squeeze to focus and then tilt to move the center of focus. Then there’s the Scout lens of the straight category. The Scout doesn't bend like the other two lens categories so it stays perfectly straight.
Next are the Lensbaby Optics categories. Lensbaby offers 8 interchangeable optics. Each optic produces a different style of creative effect. These styles are, Slice, Sweet Spot, Fisheye, Soft Focus, and the Optics Kit that comes with three lenses, Single Glass, Plastic, and Pinhole. The Edge 80 Optic in the slice style has a 80mm lens and built in aperture (f/stop) blades. It splits the picture frames focus for selective focus. The sweet spot styles have two optics, the 35mm Sweet 35 and the 50mm Double Glass Optic. Both of these optics produce a “tack sharp” sweet spot surrounded by diffusion. When used with the Composer or Spark lenses, you can move the sweet spot around the picture frame. The Fisheye Optic offers an ultra-wide 12mm focal length and 160 degree field of view capturing views from infinity all the way down to ½ an inch from the front of your lens. The Soft Focus Optic creates a lush soft image produced using a multi-hole drop-in aperture. The Optic Kit three lenses produce different quality of soft focus images. They offer an economical way to obtain the effects of the Split, Sweet Spot , and Soft Focus optics.
Lensbaby also offers several accessories that allow for even greater creative control of your photographs. While Lensbaby is a pretty deep system, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, remember the wise words of Jay Maisel, “The more equipment you take, the less pictures you make!” I would recommend that you give yourself an assignment and take one lens or optic combination. This is also a good way to learn how to use it. Remember it's a bit different from how you've been photographing. You don’t want to been out there fumbling with equipment instead of making images. Also, you don’t want to be out there constantly changing lens mounts which makes your camera sensor more susceptible to dust and dirt. When you go out, shoot with whatever your normal lens is. Then switch to the Lensbaby. When you switch, don’t go back to the other lens.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there are no electronics in these lenses. No auto focus and no automatic exposure controls. You must set your exposure controls manually. This in itself can be a nice touch. Because you have to be careful about getting the exposure right you’ll learn a lot about the power of designing with light. So with your fancy DSLR on total manual override and the ability of distorting the plane of focus and composition in the scene you’ll definitely start seeing the world differently and approaching your photography with a new insight.
Check out the slideshow accompanying this article. I've included a few self-assignments. Also take a look at my first assignment using the Lensbaby, Vespers, as an example of how to begin. So go ahead and start looking at your world from a different vantage point.