Studio Portraits with a Lensbaby Composer

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Lensbabies are often used for extra creativity in images because of the tilt-shift effect that they mimic. Creatvity is the lifeblood of many photographers and exploring new methods keep the juices flowing. So when I was loaned a lensbaby composer for the Micro Four Thirds mount, I immediately tried to figure out how I'd use it creatively and differently from the images already on the internet.

Off to the studio we went... 


Editor's Note: This was an attempt to do something with the Lensbaby in a different environment...and it obviously didn't work. In the meantime though, you can take a look at Lensbaby's site where they have better examples. We'll be posting other examples in a future blog post.

Gear Used

Olympus EP-2

Lensbaby Composer with Tilt Transformer

Kino Flo lighting system

Eye-Fi Card

Experimenting with Focus and Composition

When using the Lensbaby Composer, you'll need to keep in mind that only a small area of the image will be kept in focus. At the wider aperture settings, it's extremely tough to get something in focus. Once you stop the aperture down, it becomes easier to focus due to the fact that much more is in focus. That's putting simply: to stop the aperture down on these lenses you'll need to unscrew the optic and use the provided tool to switch out the aperture circles. Later versions like the Sweet 35 use a built-in aperture ring.

Lensbabies are also fully manual focus—so it can be easiest to use them with your camera switched into Live view mode. This way, you'll also be able to make sure that your focus is spot on and tack sharp.

The Look: From Russia with Love

When using the Lensbaby Composer, it often helps to go into the shooting project with a vision and creative idea already in mind. A simple idea is to take standard portraiture poses and shoot them with the Lensbaby to see what comes of it. In the case of the photo above, the out of focus areas look synonamous to those of old Russian lenses.

For those of you that aren't familiar or haven't had the opportunitiy to use them, some of the old Russian lenses had a special characteristic to their out-of-focus areas. Said areas looked like they had swirls. These lenses are becoming popular again with the rise of adapters to mount third party lenses onto mirrorless large sensor cameras.

However, this is only at certain apertures and at certain tilt settings.

The Importance of Critical Focusing

Sometimes you won't focus correctly at the larger apertures: so using a tripod and doing a focus check will help you create more desirable results. Micro Four Thirds have their own ways to covering up those flaws.

The Vanguard Nivelo was designed specifically for Micro Four Thirds cameras and will help you with the stability issues: which can also affect focusing. For example, if you're focusing on a very small area and your camera shakes, it may suddenly be focusing on a different plane due to distance changes.

But Cartier-Bresson always said that focusing is overrrated...

To simulate just how important the focusing is, think of it this way: You're holding a thin sheet of plastic wrap out with both your arms outstretched. If you suddenly start losing your balance a bit, your body will move and so will the plastic wrap. Think of the spot/plane that you're focusing on as that plastic wrap. As you move so too will the camera and hence the focused area.

The fact that you're dealing with an instrument designed to focus on only a certain area will make your focusing that much more important.

Mixing in Art Filters

The Olympus EP-2 features art filters. One of my favorites is the cross processing mode and when combined with the Lensbaby composer can deliver even more interesting photos out of camera. These filters are popular these days on many images that flood the web.

Even though I like the apps on my phone that give me this effect, I can get much better results when using a camera with a large sensor, the Lensbaby, and the art filters. And if I want to share them immediately, I can combine it all with an Eye-Fi card with Eye-Fi direct.

In fact, this is often my sharing method of choice now.

For fun, creative, and not serious set-ups, the Lensbaby combined with these filters can be another tool in the box for you to use when you need a fresh perspective or a different idea.

How do you use the Lensbaby creatively? Please let us know in the comments below.

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 Glad I didn't buy a lensbaby - these pictures are terrible, even if they are supposed to be vintage.

 After viewing these I am so glad I built my own using an inner tube body cap and enlarger lens and didn't buy the lensbaby. blech...