Changing how and what you see
Article © 2007-09 by Jenna Caplette, image by Marsha Phillips
Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven't time, and to see takes time. -- Georgia O'Keefe
Photography invites you to notice, to look, see, and focus. When you photograph a flower, you see the detail, make choices about which aspect of the flower to document. The stamen? The inside of the flower? The edge of a petal?
Use a LensBaby on your camera and your relationship with that flower changes. You can represent it by its shape or color, showing just the edge of a petal in sharp focus. The LensBaby allows you to move the sweet spot – the sharpest focused point in a photograph -- to any point in the frame you choose. Because the lens physically bends the focal point can be angled in a way that's impossible with a standard lens, allowing you to photograph in a completely different way than you see with your eyes.
With a single element uncoated lens, the original LensBaby was designed to produce a soft “painterly” background with a sharp spot in the picture. Photographers choose the location of the sharp spot by bending the lens left, right, up and down. When used to shoot weddings, LensBaby images deliver a dreamy, romantic effect, softening the clarity around the edges of everything, and everyone, blurring out distracting objects or people.
There are three versions of the LensBaby: the Original, the LensBaby II with a dual element coated lens, and the LensBaby III. With the same optics as the LensBaby II, the “III” has locks and fine focus, so you can repeat a particular shot.
Each of the three features a 50mm fixed focal-length lens without a built in f-stop. You determine the depth of field and your exposure by dropping a washer-like ring on to the outside of the lens. It’s the same way it was done when lenses didn’t have built-in apertures.
The rubber aperture rings come nested in a can. The biggest ring lets in the most light. Each smaller ring changes the exposure by one f-stop. Generally people shoot at 5.6 or lower and don’t often change the aperture rings.
If you have an auto focus camera, turn it to manual focus and select the focus point where you want the sweet spot. Now you can use your camera’s manual rangefinder to confirm when you have proper focus. If you’re working in digital, shoot a couple of test images, then check your histogram to see if your exposure is correct.
Make it simpler to learn how to use your LensBaby by purchasing one at a full service photography store where someone can demonstrate the basics of using one with your camera. Ask to see the accessories specially developed to work with it. The macro lens allows you to focus as close as 2 inches away from anything you want to capture ultra-close – like a flower – or from as far as a thirteen inches. The macro lens kit offers a macro filter along with a special wide angle lens. The LensBaby wide angle conversion lens maintains the size of the sweet spot.
You can also choose a kit that includes both wide angle along with a telephoto accessory. Just the right length for taking a portrait, the telephoto is also handy when you’re standing on the boardwalk in Yellowstone. Your feet are always your best telephoto lens, but when you can’t get closer to your subject, the telephoto gives the extra reach to frame hot springs and geysers that you could never capture with the standard lens.
Seeing in a new way
Marsha Phillips of Bozeman's F-11 Photographic Supplies says, “When you’re doing something like shooting a Yellowstone hot pool where the sides of the pool curve, you can bend the LensBaby and move the whole focal plane to catch that hot pool curve in a way you can’t with a standard lens.”
What makes mastering a LensBaby worthwhile is the control of your background it offers. And the mood of the LensBaby shot is almost impossible to reproduce with any other equipment. Phillips compares the images produced by a LensBaby to Impressionistic art, “though they can be very abstract. As a viewer, we only know the texture and the color that we’re allowed to see, and with that sweet spot, it’s a completely different image.”