Throwing myself into the world of photography has brought me many blessings, artistically, and one of them comes in the bounty of ways to take a picture. Connecting with other photographers who explore photography and all it’s many avenues has only enlightened my process in ways I never expected when I first picked up a camera. One of the photographer tricks I’ve become a little obsessed with is freelensing. So, last week I decided to freelens all of my portraits to try and see just how well I could master a technique that is kind of impossible to master.
For those who don’t know, freelensing involves detaching your lens from your camera body allowing a small gap between the two when taking the picture. This floods light into the chamber, giving some really cool light leak effects and it also allows you to shift the plane of focus (PoF) so that you can zero in on specific aspects of your image while intentionally blurring out the remaining. A similar effect can be achieved by using a tilt-shift lens (although you’ll lose the light leaks), but this is a makeshift (read: free) way to experiment with the look.
One thing that is important to remember with regards to freelensing is that it takes patience. This is not an easy or quick way to take a picture, and it doesn’t always work out how you plan. Freelensing portraits of the kids this week proved to be a touch stressful since they don’t always want to pose for ten minutes just so I can get one pictures, but I also found that within the chaos of an unpredictable photography experience, there were a lot of happy accidents.
I find that the closer I am to my subject, the easier it is for me to adjust the PoF in a way that suits what I’m trying to achieve. When photographing the kids, my intention is almost always to zone in on their eyes. Even if the rest of their face is out of focus, having the eyes crystal clear helps draw you to the frame. That being said, freelensing pushed me out of the comfort zone so-to-speak, because grabbing a sharp focus on the eyes isn’t always the easiest thing to do (I did manage it a few times thought, as seen directly above and a few images down). So, this gave me a chance to play with finding focal points elsewhere, like on the lips or the nose or even mere tendrils of hair. I loved the effect that came from this because it added tones and even emotions to the pictures with just those shifts in focus.
I also found that texture was my best friend. Whether it was the soft, dreaming texture of a sheet (which I used to get the billowing cloud-like framing of the images above) or more coarse textures, like in the images below; texture added depth to the images, even when those textures are being muted and blurred. Texture is something I love in a photo, regardless of technique, but I was really pleased with how much it added to these freelensed portraits.
Light is always a photographer’s friend, we know this, and this is also true with freelensing, but I will suggest underexposing your images a touch. With the excess light coming in during freelensing, it is very easy to blow out a picture. You need to be attentive to your exposure setting because it can change rapidly. If you can capture the light just right, though, the golden blurs can be truly beautiful.
If you are a fan of bokeh (who isn’t?) then you’ll really love what this effect can have when shooting in open spaces. Because I tend to take a lot of closed in portraits with the kids, I didn’t get to experience the true depth of bokeh until later in the week when I took the kids outside to shoot and the results blew my mind. In the image of my youngest daughter (the first in the row below), the bokeh effect is one of my favorites I’ve ever achieved. Her image and the leaves behind her almost look like they’ve been painted. My son’s image also bares this effect, and those blotches of pink add such depth to the image. Having such narrow depth of field (DoF) coupled with the PoF being so out of whack helps give the ‘unfocused’ aspects of the image such richness. This helps take the image from that feeling of just being blurry to being intentionally ‘created’.
As I mentioned above, freelensing takes a lot of patience. A few days I literally took 100+ images to walk away with 4-5 images that were successful, but this also has a lot to do with your subject. Shooting still life (or a still human) is much easier to manage than something that is continually moving. I did attempt movement shots, but I was not getting the look I wanted and so I scrapped those and the idea rather quickly, but even shooting a still portrait proved tricky, especially with my son, who is never still.
When moving the lens around, trying to find that ‘sweet spot’ of focus, I found that when the kids were being extra difficult to shoot I could partially attach the lens to get a slightly larger PoF, which made it easier to get the effect I wanted in the spots I wanted. You can do this by pressing the lens into the body and turning it slightly until you feel that it’s not loose anymore. It’s not attached, so don’t let go of it, but it reduces the gap to a singular side, which contains the light leaks and blur to one side of the frame. I used that method on the images below, which allowed me to capture the eyes rather sharply, giving this very soft and dreamy blur to the remaining parts of the picture. In images like these, the blur looks very intentional.
At the end of my week of experimentation, I decided to try something a bit crazy. I love the idea of mashing up techniques, but this isn’t always the easiest thing to do. That being said, I recently ordered a wired remote for my camera (night shooting to come) and so it made the possibility for trying something new more attainable. So, with my camera on a tripod and my remote attached, trigger at my feet (pressing that button with my toe must have been entertaining for my neighbors), I held my lens in one hand and my prism in the other to get the below images. I used the partially attached technique I talked about above to find a sharper plane of focus, especially since I found that the prism haze was already adding a lot of soft blur to the images.
I love the effects that a prism can achieve (I think that’s still my favorite technique), those rainbow flares and reflections, and so I was excited to see how it would pair with freelensing. I will admit, as much as I like the images I got, I don’t notice the freelensing (except for the image of my eldest daughter) as much as I wanted to, but I also feel like if the PoF were any more sparse the images would feel empty. This could be a failed experiment, or it could just need more work, I haven’t decided yet.
I will give a slight warning to any who desire to try this technique; be careful. It is very easy to damage your camera and lens if you aren’t. There is risk in dropping your lens (I did that the first time I attempted this, but thankfully it was a kit lens and it didn’t drop onto anything hard) and there is also chance of getting dust or dirt in your sensor, especially if you are doing this outside. I did a few outdoor portraits this past week, but those were also times when I kept the gap as slight as possible in order to reduce risk of infiltrating debris. It’s a fun trick and it can produce beautiful images, but you just need to be alert to possible drawbacks.
Song of the Week: Stardust & Rust
This was a pretty decent week for music, once you get into it. Bebe Rexha dropped her debut, and aside from that awful collaboration with Florida Georgia Line that every radio station feels the need to play, it’s pretty decent. I particularly enjoyed her collaboration with Tory Lanez on Steady. Billy Raffoul dropped an EP and it’s full of his raspy, whiskey laced delivery, and it works really nicely. You all know I love Charlotte Lawrence, and her EP is a real showcase for what she brings to the table. I can’t wait for more.
For me, though, this week comes down to two acts; Jack River and Demi Lovato.
Demi Lovato delivers an emotionally charged single, Sober, which is extremely personal and it shows. As she recounts her fall from sobriety, it’s almost hard to listen to, which is exactly what a song like this should feel like. Jack River, who until this week I’d never heard of, dropped her debut album and it’s filled to the brim with genre fluctuations that made me smile ear to ear. From her vintage sound to her rock, pop and even at times folksy influences, her album, Sugar Mountain, is a definite highlight of the year; and Stardust & Rust is just a perfect song.