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Creating Painterly Photographs

Lesson 7 of 21

Using the Lensbaby Velvet 56

Kathleen Clemons

Creating Painterly Photographs

Kathleen Clemons

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Lesson Info

7. Using the Lensbaby Velvet 56

Lesson Info

Using the Lensbaby Velvet 56

The Lensbaby Velvet 56 is an amazing lens and has been a game changer for me in my work. It's a straight lens, it is not part of the Optic Swap System, nothing bends, it's a straight, fairly heavy, solid lens. You do still control the aperture on the lens and there's still no electrical connection. You're not going to look through and change your aperture in your camera, it's on here. But it changed the way I shoot flowers in a couple of different ways. This was a shot from my beta testing, with the Lensbaby for this. And I could not wait to get my hands on it. I love beta testing because I get to use something to shoot something that nobody else ever has. Nobody has ever shot those pink flowers with this. And I love a challenge and I love to see what I can do. When they sent this to me I was shooting, it was winter again I think, and so I bought myself pink flowers and set it up a white board with plenty of light next to a glass door and took a bunch of shots and stopped and looked at...

the back of my camera and I started to cry. I had a very strong emotional reaction to this lens and I think it was for two reasons. One was because I was amazed at the beautiful look that I could get right in camera. I'm gonna cry again. Every time I talk about this it still happens. The other thing that happened was that I knew that my best work was ahead of me. And that's powerful, powerful stuff. And I don't apologize for crying anymore because I cry because I feel and because I feel my images are stronger. So that's okay. But yeah, I've never had that sort of a reaction to a piece of equipment before. And my poor husband, I processed the photos and brought them down and I was crying, and he's like, he thought somebody died. He's like, "what's wrong?" I went look, he's like, "it's a pink flower." So I do love my Lensbaby Velvet 56. So with the Lensbaby Velvet 56, nothing is ever going to be tack sharp. You're not looking for that sweet spot of focus around a blur anymore. There's always going to be, all the way from wide open at 1.6 to f16, there's going to be a degree of an ethereal softness. And your aperture will determine how much of that will be present. Same subject, this one on the left, had the calla is wide open at 1. and the other image, I think, is probably 2.8. So it's a subtle difference. But you can go to f11. If you've got a really detailed subject, I wouldn't shoot this wide open. I mean the detail in the center is what makes this for me. I wanna be able to see that. But I don't need detail all the way through toward the back of it. So I shot this flower at every aperture possible and with three different lens. And it was the Lensbaby Velvet 56 shot that was my favorite. I shot this poppy at f4, the botanicals gardens, and this was a tricky subject, because what I was attracted to was the amazing ruffled edges but the center's pretty cool too. But I didn't want a deep depth the field, you know, I didn't want everything in focus, so I must have taken 40 shots of this flower from different angles, you know, focusing on the front petal edge, focusing on the center, do I wanna blur the center, and I settled on this combination. But then I also shot it at f11. This has more detail, still plenty of softness and there isn't a right or wrong here. It's what you like, what your personal taste is. This one, might be too soft for you, and that's okay. If I had my choice I like this one better, but I love blur. So that's part of your choice as an artist, you have that artistic license. You know, don't let anybody else decide. And I'd show my husband my really, really soft stuff and I usually get, huh. I show him a lighthouse and he's like, wow. But that's okay. We've been married 36 years, I'm keeping him, he doesn't have to like everything I shoot and I've just learned not to show him that stuff. And also the other reason is because at this point in my career the only validation that I really need is here, it's mine. You know, my work needs to make me happy and it does. So if you're shooting for other people or you're shooting for camera clubs, that's fine but keep a part of your work that's for you, that's for here, that's your heart song. And I think you'll be a happier photographer. This is at f8, so I didn't really wanna go to f11, I didn't wanna shoot it wide open because there were too many petals coming toward the camera. This had a little bit of a depth to it. So f8 was a good compromise. So if you're trying the Velvet, I would advise you to start with f1, pick a subject, go to f1. and then just, you don't even have to look to change the apertures because it clicks, so you can just, you know, take a shot, click, click, click. Go all the way through with the apertures, look at them on your camera and look at the difference. See what happens. And you get five inches away with this, which is amazing. If five inches isn't close enough, you can add a macro diopter, which I haven't talked to them about adding those for this yet, but it could happen. Here too, I didn't, I played with this one quite a bit and I did take some at f8, f11, for a little more detail. But I like the softness. So this suits my taste better than something very detailed would. Just a peony, and doesn't it look like it's kind of dancing. It does to me. Peony in my garden. I didn't want it super soft. When you shoot with light colored subjects with the Lensbaby Velvet at apertures of 1.6 to 2. anything under 4, you can with a light colored subject, you can get a ghosting around the edges. And if you like that effect, that's okay. I'm not a fan of it, so if I'm shooting a light colored subject then I'm generally gonna be at f4, f5.6, and those are the two apertures that I'm using most with the Lensbaby Velvet. You can go super soft and not just flowers or a little more detail. These are from Santa Fe. And this one, the center of the flower had such strong detail that I believe I shot this at f8. I really just wanted the softness around the edges. And not just for flowers. I teach a workshop in Charleston every year and last spring we were wondering around and we found this woman with an iPhone shooting her daughter. And I had a whole group of photographers with big cameras. And so one of the students went up and asked the mother, you know we didn't wanna intrude and we didn't wanna make her feel bad that her iPhone wasn't enough, because it's a great little camera, and she was more than willing and her daughter was more than willing to pose for us. So I had the Velvet on at the time and so I shot both of these. And you can see that there's not super softness because I wanted some detail, but yet these are not tack sharp either. There's just a little bit of a glow, so don't think about, and there's some definite blur in the foot. You know, don't think about only flowers for this. I use it for flowers but you don't have to. And it's an amazing portrait lens. My mother will even pose if I have the Velvet on because it adds that softening. I should put a picture of her in my presentation for you. This is a shot that I took day before yesterday when we were back out at the beautiful Dunn Gardens. There were more hydrangeas there then I have ever seen and they were like, some were this size, they were pink and purple and a reddish maroon and in prime condition. So I wanted to show you how I used the Velvet to shoot those. So let's show you that now. Now I'm shooting with the Lensbaby Velvet 56. This lens came out last April. It's not part of the Optic Swap System that I talked about. It's a real lens, it's a good solid, lens. It's again fully manual. I'm setting aperture on the lens not in my camera with the ring right here. Manual focus as well. Now I can get about five inches away with this lens, which is fabulous for my flower photography. We've got gorgeous, soft, beautiful light and amazing, an amazing hydrangea bush. There are like three or four different colors of hydrangea all on the same plant. It's beautiful and a photographers dream. I'm gonna shoot this with the Lensbaby Velvet 56. I'm gonna get in close and fill the frame, with a blossom this size that's not going to be difficult at all. I'm probably going to shoot this, I'm gonna try starting at f5.6. With the Velvet 56, if you shoot wide open you get a super soft painterly look. And if that's what you like, that's wonderful. I tend to want a little more definition. I want a little more petal texture, a little bit more then that will provide. So I often shoot at f4 and f5.6 with this lens as well. Also, if you're shooting light colored subjects with the Velvet 56, and you shoot wide open, say f2, f2.5, you get sort of a ghosting effect around the petals and it's nothing that I like for my photos. And again you'll see that with light colored subjects. And the way to get rid of it is just to stop down a little bit. So I'm gonna do f5.6, move in close. And I'm working my subject, choosing different groups of flowers to include in my composition. And that was f5.6, let me try a few at f4. And even one wide open. Even stopping down all the way with this lens, you will never get a tack sharp image. But that's wonderful for the painterly look and then you get to decide with your aperture just how soft you want that to be. And generally there's no post processing with my Lensbaby Velvet 56 images, they're pretty much straight out of camera, maybe a small levels adjustment and that's it. And while I'm right here I'm also going to shoot this flower It has some tiny blossoms in the center and then the larger ones on the outside, which is a wonderful subject. And I noticed a gorgeous blossom here that has the pink and the purple mixed together. The center is purple and the petals are pink. It's gorgeous. As far as Lensbaby's go, the Lensbaby Velvet 56 is going to be a lot easier to use then the Optic Swap System and the effect is very different. So try them both, see what you like. Okay, let me show you a couple more of the photos that you saw me take. So this is at f5.6, you can see that there's still plenty of softness and there's some nice sharp detail. You can even see petal texture. And then I also shot it at f2. So if you really want a soft, dreamy, ethereal look think those large apertures, 1.6, f2, 2.8. But you can see it's the same subject. So that's why I want you to play with your apertures so that you do get a feel of what the lens can do. And one more, this is the one where I said there were some tiny blossoms surrounded by the larger ones. I could still be there shooting because it was an amazing, amazing place. Do we have any Lensbaby Velvet questions? We have a lot of questions in general coming through, Of course. Let's see if there's any with, definitely more on Lensbaby. So maybe we'll just start there. So I've got a bunch of questions of people asking, they're excited to go out and try Lensbaby but again if they're new to it, is there one particular one that you might recommend to start with? Yes, I would recommend the Composer Pro with the Sweet 50. The one that I showed first. [Woman} And that's because it's Easiest to get up to speed? Because I think the 50mm length is, and width is a really good, you know, it's like everybody has a 50mm lens when they start off. I think it's also a good starting place with the Lensbaby. And you can't get as close as you can as the 35mm, you know, if you plan on doing a lot of close ups or you like a wider then go with the Sweet but the Sweet 50 is my preference. It's a very good starter lens. And they do have kits that you can get with a whole bunch but I would just start with one. And then add to that. So another question from Willa Trapper Seagull, just to clarify this for people with regard to full frame cameras versus Willa has an APC camera, would you use a Sweet 35 to get that same effect that you're gonna get with a Sweet 50? Well sure, sure, I mean she could do that. But if I had that camera then I'd be going, oh so if I had the Seet 50 it's probably more like a 70, you know, I'd wanna get even closer. It really depends on what she wants to shoot. And that's ultimately what it comes down to. Okay, let's see. I think we can keep going and we'll save some more questions for after this segment. All right. So when you're shooting selective focus with the Lensbaby or with a straight lens, you need to think about the art part. That's the part that's in you, that's your vision. You have to think about what the story you want to tell because I believe that all of my images are stories. Some are portrait stories but I'm telling a story. I mean, I'm trying to show you what I see and the story of my subject. So only you can decide how much needs to be in focus. I can tell you what I think but it doesn't mean it's correct for you. I bought this calla at the farmers market and just used the yellow lawn in my backyard for the background. And my whole focus was just the tip of that calla. That's all I wanted in focus and so that's all I focused on. And the same thing with this plant from Santa Fe. It's red, so red's gonna draw your eye anyway. You know anytime you put red in a composition it's like a magnet for your eye. And I thought just that very tip in focus and that's also with the Velvet 56. So this is your art, your vision, your choices. And I generally try to have enough in focus to capture the essence of what I saw. It doesn't have to be everything present but it's the essence of what I saw, which might be totally different from what you saw and that's what makes it art and what makes it fun. 'Cause we all do see differently. So think about that. Look at your subject, you know. Decide what's the essence of this. If someone had never this before, what would I want to show them. You may want to show them the whole thing, I may just wanna show them one curve. It's fun. These are both with the Sweet 50, both are correct exposures but it's a totally different look, depending on what I wanted to say. The story that I wanted to tell. There are no rules, no recipes and I meant to tell you in the beginning that I have no secrets. I'm gonna show you everything that I know how to create a painterly look. There are also no recipes. No secrets, no recipes because so much is going to come from you and your vision of the subject. Here I wanted very little in focus. What caught my eye in both of these was the light, not necessarily the subject. It was the light. And I really wanted it very soft so that the focus would stay on the light not the texture of the petals, not the shapes but the light, because that was my story. You need to focus where you want to draw the eye. Makes sense, right? On the area that you feel is the most interesting. I don't mind a centered composition if the center of interest has strong visual weight, which it does here, and it was the most important part. I didn't mind putting it right in the middle and the focus had to be there. With the rose I really wanted to draw your eye just to the very tip at the top of it. And with the calla just the tip at the end. And what makes calla special are the curves, so I always try to celebrate the curves and put my focus on the curves. That's something that I probably wouldn't focus anyplace else. It has to be on the curve. These are both with the Lensbaby Velvet. Again, how much do I need in focus? The peony is quite intricate so I stopped down a little bit more. A little bit less for the peony bud. Does anything need to be in focus? Good question, Kathleen. To my husband, yes, to me, no. I shot this flower a couple of years ago and I loved it. But I felt like it was a failure because it wasn't in focus. But I kept it. And as I have matured as a photographer, that's okay for me. I think it has strong enough shape and life to it that I don't think getting a small area in focus would change that for me. I don't think that would make it stronger. So it's okay, it's okay. This was one of my early Lensbaby shots and here too I thought, I missed the focus. And when I was going through images for this presentation I found it and went, wow. Look at that, look at the distortion and the colors. Would I like that cosmos in focus, I'm not so sure because to me there's a feeling of movement in it now. It works for me. So that's okay, so you know. This is ice on my lawn with an early, September I think, ice storm in Maine. And I just laid on the ground on a blanket and shot wide open. So there's nothing really in focus but it is soft and painterly. And it was fun. The magnolia on the left does have a very slim amount in focus. The petal edges are in focus. That was enough for me. The other shot is from my old Lensbaby 2. and you can see the directional blur because I tilted up. There's nothing in focus in that shot and I love it. To me that's a painterly look right in camera. But most of the time I do want a very small area in focus. Or an area that has some definition and you can see that here. That's what caught my eye, was that tiny little curl. So that's what I wanted to show you. And the only way for me to do that is to have that be the only thing in focus. If I put that whole flower in focus you might have missed that curl. You can't miss it now. Same here, I only wanted the petal edges in focus. And i found this flower in that position and so I turned it back around the other way, so that it was upright, and it just didn't work, it just didn't work, so I left it in the orientation that I found it in. And then some images do need a little bit more in focus. I wanted to draw your eye to the base of this flower. And what attracted me here, and why I shot this, was the background. It was light on my garden, early morning and it was just so beautiful so I got down on my hands and knees and lined up a cosmos right in front of it and then just focused on the base of the flower. I actually found this just as it. There is a texture added to the background of this one. But to me it was like the milkweed seed was dancing on the end of the pod. When I see something like this, I swear I'll be out shooting and I'd just go, 'cause I feel like I can barely breathe because I have to capture that. It makes my day, shooting early in the morning. Then there's something here that I want to talk to you about. I want you to, I put it in purple so that you will remember it. The best light and the best focus need to be on the same place. Don't put your focus here and have the best light over here because then the eye goes, where did she wanna show me. So be sure that those are both. The reason of this is because it's really all about contrast. Your eye is going to be drawn to an area of contrast. A light area in a dark frame or a dark area in a light scene, an area of sharpness in an area of blur. So you don't want two different areas of contrast, you want your best light on your best focus. Plus if you're gonna draw someone's eye to something with focus they need to be able to see it, so you want the best light on it. So that's something that you really need to think about. You can see here the area of interest is in the center. That's where my best light is. Same thing with these ferns. And this amazing dahlia, which I didn't grow but wish I should have, wish I had. And another, my focus and my best light in the same area. Each time. Yes. All right Kathleen, well before we keep moving, I wanted to clarify a few things with some questions from folks at home. Let us know if you have any in the studio. Okay, so people are acknowledging that the Lensbaby's don't save the xf data. Right. So, meaning that after the fact, you might not know what aperture you used and such. Do you take notes? Or do you not care after the fact? Or is there some process that you have with that regard? The only time I care is when I'm beta testing for Lensbaby because they wanna know. And so I think I told you before that if it's f2 I'm holding up two fingers taking a picture. I take a picture of the optic in lens first, I'll do that. If I'm working inside, I'll have scraps of paper with that written down. But basically if I'm testing I'm running through the apertures in order. So if you're doing that, you're going to know what they are because you've started at the widest and gone to the smallest. And I've written it in the dirt with a stick before and taken a picture of it if I needed to know. So there are some little tips. Yeah, because you are not going to find out from your data. There just isn't the communication for that. But you can find your own ways around it. But the hand works really well for me. And I don't shoot at like f so I don't have to worry about it. Or I could invent something for f but most of the time, you know, it's two, four, 5.6. And I do that for 8. Great. And one more question to that regard, what are your camera settings for with Lensbaby, do you just put the camera on manual and adjust the shutter speed in iso? So again, you're choosing your aperture but can you talk to the other elements. I generally have my camera on aperture priority and I'm keeping an eye on the shutter speed of the camera. You can use manual as well. But aperture priority works in most of the newer cameras now with the Lensbaby. Another thing, when you attach a Lensbaby you might get a warning saying, no lens attached, so often you have to go into your settings and allow the camera to shoot without a lens and then you'll be all set. There's a lens on there but it's not recognizing it so sometimes people have that issue as well with the Lensbaby. Great. And one more question, I know we continue to come back to the fact that you're hand holding your lenses but do you have a rule of thumb for iso with regard to hand holding? Yeah, it's always gonna be as low as I can get away with basically. And like I said, I'm using plenty of light so I rarely have to go up to a high iso, 200, 400 is probably as high as I'm going with the Lensbaby. And I'm also shooting in a large aperture which is letting a lot of light in. If I was shooting at f16 that would be a problem. I would have to up my iso but for the apertures that I use and the conditions that I shoot in it's really not a problem. And for the shutter speeds as well, is there a particular one that you won't go below? It's a sound. You know when you click the shutter and it makes that clunk, then I, oops, then I know I have to pay attention. But yeah I do that by ear more than anything else. And you know, I'm shooting in aperture priority but I'm keeping an eye on the shutter speed as well and I know what I can get away with. You know, I've shot at a 15th of a second hand held without a problem but I'm not gonna, I don't do that all the time and I don't advise it, it just happened and I got lucky that the image was in focus.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.

Make yourself stand out among nature photographers by adding a new dimension to your images. Painterly techniques draw attention to the delicate patterns, lines, textures, and designs that we often overlook in the natural world.

Kathleen Clemons is an experienced nature photographer, known for her creative techniques and her unique, stunning compositions. 

Join Kathleen for this class, and you’ll learn:

  • How to achieve the painterly look in-camera with slow shutter, selective focus, Lensbaby, and multiple exposures.
  • How to evoke the painterly look in Photoshop with panning.
  • How to use Topaz Impression and NIK software to make painterly photos.
In this class, you’ll learn how to create painterly images by using a wide variety of techniques. Kathleen will show you how to apply effects using in-camera settings, different lenses, Adobe Photoshop®, and low-tech tricks like applying vaseline to filters. Capture the magic of nature and turn your photography into remarkable impressionistic art. 



Wow. I really loved this class. I took her other class, "The Art of Flower Photography" as well. She is very thorough, explains concepts clearly and is professional, yet kind. I have been doing photography for decades, but flower photography is a little bit of a different animal. I have found it to be extraordinarily challenging - which is also invigorating! At the same time, using Kathleen's principles, I feel like I now have basic rules and tools under my belt which I did not have before. This is a little humbling as I have been doing photography for so long and was surprised there were a few basic concepts I didn't "get the memo" on. haha. This class will save me heaps of trial and error time. I will be much better able to zero in on what I really need to work on. I actually recommend taking both her Creative Live courses. Yes, there is a bit of overlap - but that little bit of repetition is actually helpful. They are not the same class. Oh, and one more "perk" get to view some of the most stunning flower photography ever created. Masterful. Thank you, Kathleen.

Donna Macri Stevens

As I've been watching this class, I have literally been sitting at my computer and saying aloud, "Wow....WOW!" This is an absolutely amazing class!!! I began watching it while it streamed, but had to buy it. Kathleen is an amazing instructor, and she is SO generous with her tips and techniques. I love that she supplemented her instruction with on-site videos, in class photo manipulation and so much more. If you love flower photography or want amazing tips on how to make your photos more painterly, CLICK BUY NOW! I'm just blown away! This is a GREAT, GREAT class!


Kathleen's images have a very artistic and painterly character, so she is a great presenter for this subject. In this class she openly shares many of her methods of shooting to create in-camera artistic images (even with your phone) as well as post-processing techniques. She presents this material with her open, calm, strong and passionate manner that gives you an "artistic license" to experiment and discover "What happens if?" I have admired her work for a long time and am so excited that she shares the secrets of creating her enchanting images here. If you are interested in capturing images that go beyond what you see to incorporate how you feel about a subject, you will love this class!