By Steff Wood
30 Aug 2010
The Lensbaby. A unique lens that creates a circular blur that is adjusted through tiny aperture discs placed onto the front of the lens. Some call it a toy, a lens that is fun for a while but is quickly discarded. They can't see any genuine use for it. I on the other hand, disagree. The Lensbaby is a highly creative lens, being able to vary the amount of blur using the discs can create such a range of effects, and it has a range of interchangeable optics that can be used in the lens that expand its range even further. There is a pinhole/zone plate optic that recreates those vintage styles in a new way, a fisheye optic that gives ultra-wide 12mm focal length and 160 degree field of view. There is the soft focus optic, which creates an ethereal glow and variations on the standard optic too.
I find it to be highly versatile and use it in a lot of my fashion and fetish photography. The sense of movement the blur creates is wonderful for erotic and fetish portraits, and the pinhole optic is such a great way to be able to shoot the pinhole style without having to shoot film. The Lensbaby Composer is the lens I have, there are three different lenses, the Composer, the Muse and the Control Freak, the Composer being the newest of the three. It takes a little bit of time to get used to how to move the lens on the front of the camera as you physically move the front part of it to change the 'sweet spot', which is the name given to the focus point in the image, but once you have that sussed it is incredibly easy and quite natural, I tend to shoot quite quickly, getting the model to change poses between each camera click, and the Lensbaby Composer barely slows me down or changes this style.
Because you use the aperture discs, you don't physically change this in camera, leaving you with just shutter and ISO to play with. I have used the Lensbaby in the most extreme of lighting conditions and find that any grain in an image as a result of a high ISO is actually very pleasing, and adds to the effects of the image overall. The most difficult aspect of the lens I have come across is when using the pinhole/zone plate optic, as you cannot see what you are shooting due to the smaller of the two settings measuring at a tiny f/177. You have to judge your composition much more carefully, and use very long exposures to let it enough light. For the photos of Clayre Mckinnen you see, I used an ISO of 1600 and a shutter speed of 16/10 seconds. I shot it handheld, it was the first time I'd used the lens and hadn't anticipated the need for such a long exposure, but I think that considering that, its coped extremely well. Similarly in the photo of Essjay that was shot handheld using just a street lamp in the middle of the night and it has coped incredibly well.
Typically, the Lensbaby is mostly used for landscape and nature photography, because of the nature of its blur it has been assumed that it isn't versatile enough for shooting portraits, but photographers like Andrew Farrington and Benedict Campbell have shown just how high fashion and creative the lens can be. I got my Lensbaby Composer last May specifically to use for portraiture, as that's my main focus of shooting, and I try to use it on every shoot if possible. As someone who loves a shallow depth of field it offers a totally new way to explore depth of field and focus. Whether working on blank studio backgrounds or on location, the blur creates something different every time. It draws your attention to your subject, leads your eye to wherever you may have chosen to place the sweet spot, and the more extreme the blur, the more the viewer is left wondering about the concept. It distorts tattoos and fades the edges of skin wonderfully at its most shallow, creating an almost abstract feel, and the flexible sweet spot focus point means you can be as accurate, or naughty as you might want to! I even sometimes deliberately throw the lens entirely out of focus to get a whole new style of blur.
The Lensbaby is the sort of lens that requires love, given to someone whose attention is easily lost it won't fulfil its potential, but given to someone who is inspired by it, and who will love it, it has so much to offer. So get inspired and try something totally new, as Lensbaby say, see in a new way!
Visit their website here www.lensbaby.com