The Magic of Lensbaby
Lensbaby. (laughter) One of my favorite, favorite things to talk about. I titled this The Magic of Lensbaby because that's how I feel about Lensbaby lenses. This is, these are three shots from my very first outing with a Lensbaby, right out of the box. I bought it in November, found out about it on a photography tour that I took in New Hampshire in October and I swear, the night I got home I had ordered one because someone had one on the trip and I was just blown away. I mean these aren't perfect Lensbaby shots. My focus is not great, but there was something there that it sparked something in me and it changed the focus, no pun intended, and the direction of my work. So I just wanted to show you those to show you that I didn't, I've had people say "I want to shoot like Kathleen Clemons." Well I didn't used to shoot like Kathleen Clemons. You know? It's taken me a long time to shoot like Kathleen Clemons and that's okay, so there's gonna be a learning curve. When I got my Lensbaby, it w...
as a Lensbaby 2.0, and it was just one lens and it was on a bellows system. It looked like a little vacuum cleaner hose and you had to squeeze it to focus, and you could tilt it, but now Lensbaby is a lens system. You get one lens, and 11 optics. I want to show you just what that looks like. So I want you to think of the lens, actually. This is the composer pro as a holder. A holder for the optic. And you can easily pop that out and put in a different one. So you can see this, there's no glass here. Think of it as a holder. And you can buy one optic, you can buy a bunch of optics, it's your choice. My favorite is the Sweet 50. I'm gonna show you a couple of others, though. So this is the Lensbaby Composer Pro, remember that's the lens part. Sweet 50 is the optic part. Let's go back a little bit for people who may not be familiar. Do any of you have Lensbabies? Success with Lensbaby? (laughter) Okay. What you're doing with a Lensbaby, what makes it different than a regular lens, let me seat this back in so it doesn't pop out on me. A Lensbaby will have a sweet spot of focus. It's what they call it, the sweet spot. So it's an area of focus surrounded by blur. And what makes it unique is you can move that focus to wherever you want it in the frame. Now I would not suggest you shoot a lot like that. You don't want your focal point on the edge of your frame cause it'll lead the eye to the frame and out of the frame. Just small bends. And it's a fully manual lens, so you're not going to have acts of data. If you want to know what aperture you shot it at you're going to have to write it down. Or I'll also show you a trick that I have. But you change the aperture right on the lens. Just like that. And when I'm beta testing new equipment and I need to know what aperture I shot it at, I can pretty much tell now, but let's say that I'm shooting an F4, I do this and take a picture of my hand. F5, F2, wide open. Or I've also, I've written it in the sand, I've written it on a piece of paper if I'm shooting in the house and take a picture of it. It's also great if you're changing optics and you want to know what you shot with what, take a picture of the Sweet 50, and then all the pictures after that in your files will be Sweet 50, and then if you switch to the Sweet 35, Edge 80, take a picture of that. And that's just a good way as you're learning to know. And I would also encourage you to pick a subject and shoot at every aperture. Just so that when you look at the images together you can see the subtle differences and how you go from very little in focus to a little more, little more, and a little more, so. Some tips for you. I love the way it distorts my subject. You know people will say I can do that blur in Photoshop. I don't believe you can. I'm sure someone's gonna wanna prove me wrong, that's okay. Lensbaby blur has directionality to it, and it also distorts. You can see the cosmo shot if you look at the top of the petals, there's some distortion, some stretching, that's because I bent the lens up to that top area and you can really see it in the flower on the right. Look at that petal on the right, it's distorted and stretched out. The stem is stretched. I think of Photoshop blur as kind of flat blur. And that's a totally different look. And I'm sure if you wanted to do all pile of levels and do a little stretch and play with liquefy and all that, but I can do that in my camera. And I would way rather be out shooting more pictures than I would trying to make something look like a Lensbaby when I could just use a Lensbaby. Lensbaby allows me to draw your eye to one particular area. It allows me to say look at this and don't look at this. And then there's that beautiful distortion. And if you don't do a lot of bending, it's very subtle. Also Lensbaby Sweet 50. You can go very, very soft. The rose is wide open. And then the fern, I believe I was at F4 for that because it needed a little bit of detail. It's gonna depend on your subject and your vision for the subject, just how soft you want it. And how much detail you think the subject needs to capture the essence of it. This is a shot I just did last week, that's with the Sweet 50 optic, wide open at F2.5. That's sunlight on the grass behind the daisy. And there's no post-processing here. This, I resized it for the presentation only. That's what Lensbaby looks like right out of the camera. Most of the time, I do very little, sometimes a little bit of a levels adjustment, or if I missed something in the background that's not blurred quite enough, I might have to do a little bit of cloning, but that's what it looks like. I also like the Lensbaby Composer Pro with the Sweet 35 optic. It's basically the same thing except it's 35mm, so it's a little bit of a wider view. For my flowers I like the 50mm better, but the 35, as you can see, you can still shoot flowers with the Sweet 35, too. And not just flowers. Ferns are another favorite subject. Also with the Sweet 35. And three more. So don't think just flowers. You can painterly look right in the camera and you can really see the distortion that I talked about in the cosmo shot, look at those petals and how they're stretched. Still with an area in focus. Backgrounds are gorgeous too, you'll get orbs of light which are just gorgeous. Lensbaby's newest optic is the Composer Pro with a Twist. Sorry, it's the Composer Pro with a Twist 60 optic, the optic is brand new, just started this spring, and it's a very different look. This is an F2.5. The sweet spot is enormous in this optic. And what it does to the background is create twisty blur and a little bit of a vignette. So that's not photoshopped, that darkening on the edges is right from the optic. I don't think I'll ever take it off F2.5. Because that's a big enough sweet spot for anything that I want to shoot. It's best for full-frame cameras because a crop frame camera is sort of, you lose some of that effect around the edges and that's what makes it special. And people are shooting with them anyway, but you're just not going to get as much effect as you will with a full-frame camera. And these are also both from that same optic. You can see that blur and distortion and vignetting around the edges. I sorta like the vignetting. I haven't done much macro with it because you really need a background to be able to see that effect. If I'm getting in really close, I won't see that swirly background, so I've, haven't done much macro with it at all. My other favorite optic has been discontinued, but you can still find them. There's eBay. It's the Soft Focus Optic. And with the Soft Focus Optic, you're never going to get anything in tack sharp focus. I mean, even if you stop down. Bending is as essential with that optic because there's not going to be a sweet, sharp spot of focus with blur. Everything has sort of a soft, painterly look. And that's right out of camera. There's another one. And it's hard when people ask me what my favorite Lensbaby is because generally it's whatever's on my camera at the time. Because I'll take an older optic out and put it in and that's my favorite. And I'll shoot a... Cause you know, your newer pictures are always your favorite anyway, well mine are anyway. And it's fun. Also, when you're in a rut to try something like this. You know, you're just like uh, pictures aren't any good, I haven't gotten anything good in a while, put a Lensbaby on, or for me a different Lensbaby, and it adds a challenge, makes me try a little harder, and I fall back in love with them. This is also with Lensbaby Soft Focus. And these, too. It's not just flowers, feathers. And I found that feather there, by the way, I did not place it. It would be okay if I had. Because I do bring stunt objects with me when I go on a shoot. I usually have a couple feathers in my backpack and maybe a shell, something that I want to shoot. But I was walking by the ferns at the Botanical Gardens one November with my friend Zoe and I stopped, and I saw that out of the corner of my eye and went (gasping) And she's like "What?" And I went "Look!" And she's like how did you see that? And I said how did you not see that? I spent a half hour shooting that. I have horizontals, I have verticals, I have different apertures shooting that. But like I said, it's okay to make photos, to have a stunt feather in your pocket. That's part of your artistic license that I gave you. You're allowed to carry feathers in your pocket, it's alright. If the photo police come, send them to me. And the other is a path up at Acadia National Park. And I've shot it so many different ways, I've panned it, I've shot it straight, it's a beautiful location, and then I thought I wonder what would happen if I shot it with a Soft Focus? Also not just flowers. And he let me get really close, he or she. It's a Painted Lady Butterfly, so. So the reasons that I love my Lensbabies is they let me capture what I see. When I look at my Lensbaby photos, that's what I saw at the time and so it lets me show you the way I see. I can go from this scene and make that. And that with my Lensbaby. I mean, it doesn't look like much. One more click, of a scene. But if you move in close, let the Lensbaby do its thing with the distortion, and the blur, and the focus just on a petal edge, that's what I get. Lensbabies make my heart sing. I can draw attention to very small details, like I said, I can say look over here, don't look over there. I show you what I see and draw your eye to what I felt was important. And there's the horizontal of that shot. And Lensbaby simplifies. I wanted to be able to keep your attention on the feather and not... I mean the fern is busy. There are a lot of curves and a lot of lines and the feather could get easily lost with a regular lens and the Lensbaby allowed me to focus just there on, I could tilt to the side, focus just there and simplify that background into just soft blur. So that it supports the subject, but doesn't become part of the subject. And this rose I only wanted focus on the petal edges. And I wanted from the center for more and more blur to spread out. And like I said, they're so lightweight for hand-holding. But if you don't have a steady hand, go ahead and definitely be on your tripod. So I can go from a really soft, dreamy look. This is a clematis. I shot this pretty close to wide open. I wanted lots and lots of blur. To something like this, and that's the same lens, but if I stop down, I get more and more detail. And this subject wouldn't have looked as nice with a lot of softness. I think that this one needed the more detail. I didn't want it throughout, but I definitely wanted it on the tip of the pistole, I wanted to be able to draw your eye. Lensbaby photos often need no post-processing. I talked about that a little bit already. Straight out of the camera. Shot these feathers, I live in Maine, we talked about. And so from January to sometimes April, there's not a whole lot for me to shoot outside that's not white. So I tend to shoot in my living room, and I just took a piece of foam core, and a friend has a parrot, and started collecting the parrot feathers for me. And I just arranged them on the cardboard with natural light and played with my Lensbaby and focusing on just that top feather. This is from the same shoot, a piece of blue poster board, popped my feather on there with natural light and really wanted to be able to draw your eye just down that line of the spine of the feather. This background is what caught my eye here, I mean the bleeding hearts look beautiful but when I saw the background in the back of my camera I was blown away, and no post-processing. That's what I saw, what I took, is what you see. So you're getting background blur and distortion right in-camera. I found this swallow tail at the grocery store. Not in the grocery store. (laughter) That would be cool. But in the parking lot, and it was alive, but it wasn't in great shape. And I couldn't leave it there. One, cause I wanted to photograph it. And two because I just was afraid somebody would run it over. So I brought it home, sat on the passenger seat, and I brought it home, and I put it in my garden, and it stayed for the day, which was fabulous, and I would just put my hand out and it would crawl into my hand and then I would take it to different flowers which was just terrific, and the next morning it was gone. And in my world and in my hopes, it got what it needed, got a little nourishment, got out of the parking lot in town, and was able to go on its way. But in the meantime, I shot it like crazy, so. The other thing that I like about using my Lensbabies is especially for my flowers, is that they can add a feeling of motion, a dance. That distortion in the petals creates a feeling of movement. And my very favorite thing is to be able to capture a flower that feels to me like it's dancing. And I can convey that with this lens. Here's another one, I mean, can't you feel the movement in that one? And it wasn't moving. That's just the distortion. And this one does have a texture added to the background as well. Here, too. This is in my living room. That's another winter shot when I buy myself flowers. As much as I can in the winter, and the background is just an oriental rug in my room, in my living room. And I have large glass windows and just aimed it toward the light. But the curve, the way the petals go off, to me looks like it's dancing. And here is one of the images that I shot at Dunn Gardens for you, and I have a video to show you exactly how I use a Lensbaby. Now I'm shooting with one of my Lensbabies. This is the Lensbaby Composer Pro lens with the Sweet 50 optic. The optic is this little center part. With the optic swap system, I can pop that out and put in the Sweet 35 which has a wider view or any of the other optics. The Sweet 50 is one of my favorites for flowers. I like the, 50mm works really well for me, but I can only get about 17 inches away with this optic. So I use macro diopters, and I'll just screw that right on. And now I can get more like six or seven inches away, this is a plus four diopter. I also have a plus ten if I want to get really close, or I can stack them. But the plus four is the one I'm going to use most often. Using a macro diopter is going to reduce up the field a little bit, so I'll be stopping down more than I would if I didn't have one on. To focus the Lensbaby, everything is fully manual here. There's nothing automatic. There's no auto focus, there's really no electrical interaction with your camera. So focus is manual and there'll be a sweet spot of focus surrounded by blur. And I can move that blur anywhere in the frame that I want. If I want the area in focus, my focal point over to the right, tilt to the right, down, up, anywhere I want. Now you really won't want to put the area of focus, your focal point, on the edge of a frame so I don't encourage you to do major bends. You might want to try it just to see what it looks like. But most of the time, a slight bend off-center is what you're going for. A little bending goes a long way. So what you would really do is set a preliminary focus just so that you can see through the viewfinder and see your subject, and decide where you want to put that point of focus. And then you'll do your bending, and then you'll have to refocus, re-find that focus because you've bent it. You'll also have to think about this in terms of exposure when you're bending because you might be bending toward a light source or away from a light source. So let's say you were bending toward the right, there was a lot of light over there, if you change that bend to a different area of the frame, recheck your exposure. Check your histogram, check your LCD, and be sure that your exposure is still accurate after bending. So, oh, a bee just landed on my chosen subject, and I'm hoping that the bee will change locations for me. I've chosen them because behind them you can see that there's plenty of contrasting color. Some yellows, some light green, and I think that will make a beautiful background and show through the blue. So I'm gonna get at a low angle for this. I don't want to shoot straight down because then my background would be these green leaves. I want that for the background. So I'm gonna kneel down. And like I said, I can get pretty close with this now. So I can go either further away or up as close as I can. And then I have to do a preliminary focus to see my subject. And then decide where I want that sweet spot. I'm gonna put it in the lower left of the frame here. Having a look at my exposure, it's a little bit dark, I'll go up a little. So while I'm down here, I'm not gonna just take one shot and I encourage you to shoot and shoot and shoot with your Lensbaby. There's a strong learning curve with Lensbaby lenses. You will be deleting a lot, and that's okay. It's perfectly normal, don't worry about it. But I encourage you not to delete your photos on your camera. Wait until you get back and look at them on your computer. Because sometimes there'll be a happy accident where it might not be the shot that you wanted or anticipated, but it's still a really cool shot. I also want you to start using F4, F5.6, it's a good mid-range aperture. The sweet spot will be large enough for you to see it. So while I'm down here, I'm gonna grab a couple more subjects. That bend was to the lower left. Let's go back in to the same flowers and this time move my subject over to the right. Great, yeah, and I'm at F4. I'm gonna try F.6 and changing apertures is done right here on this dial. From F2 to F22. I would never use F22 with a Lensbaby because your blur will just be a little bit around the edges. The reason that I like Lensbaby is because of the blur and the distortion. And I want to see a lot of it. Shooting wide open with a Lensbaby is also a blast, but it makes focus harder. So I wouldn't encourage you to do that in the beginning. I'm gonna try a little further back. More of that yellow showing through. And that's how you use a Lensbaby. Here are three more shots from that shoot. You can see that in the first one, I chose to place my focus on the center of that tiny flower over to the left, and then I tried over to the right, then I moved in a little bit closer and filled more of the frame with my subject. So Kenna, do you have questions for me?
We absolutely have questions for you. What a great first segment, once again we have people tuning in from all over the world. So if you have a question in our wonderful studio audience, please go ahead and grab a mic, but I will start with the folks at home. And so these are questions that have, sort of go back for this entire last few lessons. So one question that had come in is about the focal length that you're talking about on these lenses. Are you photographing with a full-frame camera? Because it can have a different effect if you have a different crop frame.
Yes, I do have a Fuji which I don't use a whole lot, but most of my shooting is done with a full-frame Canon 5D Mark 3. So if you have a crop frame, those focal lengths are gonna be even longer for you, which is, it's a good thing.
Great. Did we have a question here? Oh, in the second row.
Yes, the lenses that you mentioned, for example your 180mm and so forth, do you specifically buy a lens that is a macro style lens?
I've had the Tamron 180mm since my second year shooting. Because I wanted something to get close and one of my friends recommended the 180mm, so I trusted him. And that's why I bought it and it turned out to be an amazing lens for macro.
And a second question, in the first visit to Dunn Gardens that you showed us in the video, it looked to be like perhaps there was some glare. You haven't made any comments about using a polarizer.
I don't. I don't use a polarizer on flowers. And I wasn't noticing any glare on the things that I was shooting. But not for flowers. I'll use polarizers for landscapes and if I shoot shiny cars and things like that, but there wasn't an issue with anything reflective when we were at the garden.
Did you have a question?
I have a couple questions. On the picture of the feather in Arcadia, were you using a reflector to draw the light to the feather?
No, didn't need to. It was an overcast day and the light was just beautiful.
And on extension tubes, what is your thought about diminishing the quality of your lens when you're using the extension tube?
Well I don't think it does because there's no glass. It's just a hollow tube, it's just bringing you closer, so I don't believe that there is any loss of quality for using an extension tube. That's sort of the beauty of an extension tube rather than adding a glass filter.
I noticed that a lot of your examples, your environments are very serene. And I myself, I'm out in the field shooting, I teach classes, and I find that if I want to get into a macro situation, say it's a field of poppies, you know, and the wind kicks up, and all of a sudden I go oh my gosh, I gotta bump the shutter speed up to get 'em. Do you recommend shooting at earlier times of day or late in the afternoon to avoid kind of atmospherics like that, where you're dealing with wind blowing around? Because it can be kind of a challenge.
Right. I'm a morning person. My husband is a lobsterman and I get up at quarter five and get him out the door, because I can wake up and be like this. He takes a little longer to wake up. So I get up with him, and it's actually how I started shooting. Because I live on the coast of Maine, right on the water, across from the world's only crib stone bridge. You'll see it later on in a couple of my shots. And I'd get up with my husband and my three sons would still be sleeping and open the curtains and my house faces East. So we watch the sun rise over that ridge. And so I would run out in my bathrobe and a pair of boots, stand on my front lawn, and shoot the sunrise. It was a limited subject. I couldn't go very far from the house, I had three kids in the house sleeping. But what it taught me was about the quality of light and how quickly it changes. So I love shooting first thing in the morning and I have several different gardens on different sides of my house so the light is always good somewhere, and I tend to plant what I want to shoot. So I have the most energy in the morning. At my age, I don't think that's uncommon. (laughter) So it's best for me creatively to be out early in the morning, and the fact that there is less wind is definitely a bonus for that. I do go to a botanical garden twice a month and I'm lucky enough to be able to get in at seven a.m. And I'll stay til about nine when the light gets strong and the tourists start coming in, I'm gone. But yeah, early morning. Because of my energy level, I feel more creative in the morning, and it's easier because the light is better and the subjects aren't moving.
Okay, thank you.
Alright, great. Well let's head back to the folks at home. A lot of people aren't as familiar with the diopter. Is this, is the diopter a Lensbaby product?
Not yet. I'm hopeful. (laughter) It used to be with the older style Lensbabies, it was a 37mm thread size, and they did have what they called a macro kit which was a plus four and a plus ten macro diopter. But then when they went to the newer style, it's a 46mm and they were afraid that people would get confused and buy the wrong ones because now you had two different thread sizes. So they stopped making them and instead made something called a macro converter, which you have to take the optic out to change. And I don't use them often because I sort of get in a zone when I'm shooting and I'm way better off not to have to take an optic out, I have the plus four macro diopter in one pocket and a plus ten in the other. And if I'm not close enough, I'll put one on. If I'm too close, I'll put the other one on. I'll stack them. It's just much simpler for me, I don't lose my composition that way. If I had to stop, take an optic out and then where was I shooting? It's just more difficult for me, so I prefer the macro diopters. But they know this, that I'm not such a large fan of that and I have been asking them to make a set of macro diopters. Since the ones with the smaller thread size have been discontinued, it would be a good time to bring on a set of 46mm ones. But you can get them at any camera store. I have some great ones by B&W, it's a nice quality. And you usually get a pack of two or four, small, like I said I just put them in my pocket and switch them on and off. And with those there can be a little bit of a loss holly like you asked about, in quality if you don't get good glass. But with all this blur, it's really not as much of a factor as it would be if you were shooting at F and trying to get max detail and max focus. One of the Lensbaby sayings is "embrace randomness". I do, so that's really not a problem. But that's a good question.
Great, well perhaps Lensbaby folks are listening and we're hearing more of Kathleen's requests. Although, I know that they hear your requests anyhow. So a couple more of these lens questions. So Joann Lee Photography, who is in Maine as well, says greetings from Maine. So once again the macro diopter is not the same as the Lensbaby macro converter, correct?
The converter is what I was saying is like a set of extension tubes, and it goes inside. You would pick your optic, take your optic out, and then there's a six and an 18 I think, they're two different ones, a thin one and a thicker one. And put one of those in and then remount your optic. So if you had the thin one in and then you decided that wasn't enough, you'd have to stop, take the optic out, fish that out, and get the other one. They work really well, it's just in my work flow, it doesn't work really well for me cause I shoot so much at one time.
Do you want to grab a mic? Pass the mic up front, thank you.
Kathleen, you have the 70-200 regular lens.
I also have like a 300mm lens, but the problem is you can't get close enough. If I used, or if you used, have you used the extension tube on a 70-200, does that get you in close enough? And that's something maybe I could try to get close enough.
You definitely could do that. What I usually use with that lens is instead the Canon 500D, which is a filter that goes on the end. It's a little more limiting than the tubes are because the tubes are three different lengths. I think it gives you a little more variety in how close you're getting, and how much depth of field you're losing than that, but I can pop that 500D Canon close-up filter in my pocket and take a walk with that lens. It's a great walk-around lens. And that way I can shoot from macro to, you know, long distances away, so that's something else that you could think about. But tubes will work, too.
Okay, thank you.
So once again, just to add from V. Paul, and you can vote on questions, everyone. There is a little vote area with a little arrow. So that's awesome, this one has a few votes. So do you ever use the extension tubes with the Lensbabies, or are even the macro attachments available with Lensbabies?
Sure, sure. You definitely can use the tubes. I generally just use the smallest tube with my Lensbabies. Cause I can get pretty close. But the Sweet 50, I'm about 17 inches away, but if you use a Sweet 35, you're more like eight inches away, so you don't want to get too too close. It's because that's going to limit the area that you can focus. But you definitely can use extension tubes.
Great. And we are gonna be talking more about some tips for using Lensbabies for people who are new to them. They are, it's fun to start trying, but having the ability to know how Kathleen uses them is a great. So a couple more questions though, shifting to settings and shooting out in the field, I'mAwesome had said "Does camera shake not become an issue when shooting at such shallow depths of field?"
It can if you don't have really strong arms. When I'm not a photographer, I have a business called Lobster Ladies. And I retail my husband's lobsters two days a week at a farmer's market. And that includes a lot of heavy lifting, I have muscles. When I stop doing that, I'm probably gonna have to be on a tripod, but right now, I can hand-hold a 100-400. I just got the Tamron 150-600. I can hand-hold it. Not for a day, but I can hand-hold it. And so for me, hand-holding works, but I'm not saying that that's for everybody, for sure. And if you know that you can't, I just did a workshop in Longwood Gardens and I was working with someone, and she was just so shaky and I said where's your tripod? And we really had to have a talk about you need to know what your limitations are as to how steady you can get, and if you can't be steady, don't fight it, use your tripod. Because it's really essential with the Lensbaby to get that focus in the right spot and get that focus sharp, and if you set your focus and then you lean in, focus is gonna be behind your subject, so you're going to end up with instead of a sweet spot of focus, you're gonna end up with a sweet spot of blur, a little bit of focus around the edges, and then more blur. And you might have seen that in your Lensbaby images, and that's what happens, so that's generally how you get your back focus, so. You have to know yourself.
So is there, people are wondering about then ISO as well, to not get too much blur, too. Is there a way that you go about considering what ISO to be using?
I try and keep it as low as I can get it. And you have to, if you look at my work you see that I'm shooting in plenty of light generally, it's soft light, but there's plenty of light. I don't shoot at night with my Lensbabies. So my ISO, if it's a nice day and I'm shooting wide open or at like an F2 I can get by with 100 or 200. If I'm going deeper into the woods then I up it quite a bit, but with my Canon 5D Mark 3, an higher ISO is not going to be an issue for me with noise, so I keep it as low as I can get away with.
We have another question here? Mic, please?
Do you recommend shooting on a burst rate? Like if you're in a situation just putting on a shutter high, just firing off a few shots...
I don't do that with a Lensbaby, I do that with the panning technique that we'll be talking about later, but not with softer focus, I don't.