I’ve discovered a new photography technique that I’m loving. It’s called Freelensing and I don’t even need to write a tutorial for it because the always-amazing Ryan Brenizer has already done that for me. Essentially Freelensing is detaching your camera lens from your camera body (just barely) which changes the plane of focus and the way the light hits the sensor. This is not something to undertake lightly! Dust can get on your sensor if you do this (especially if you are crazy like me and do it in the middle of a pea field or something) but I’m so in love with the effect that I can’t seem to stop using it. It’s like any lens I own can now create unique images similar to what you’d get from a tilt-shift!

Someone actually noticed I was doing this because they asked about it on my Formspring page.

In your latest post (Date Day in Seattle) the temple photos have an unusual focus (to me?) is it a real focus? did you manually focus and what lens was it you used for it?

The pictures she noticed are the top two in this post. In the photo on the left, the focus slices through the frame from front to back on the diagonal. In the photo on the right I was trying to get just the statue on top to be in focus (it’s not exactly what I was hoping for, but it’s close).

I’ve been practicing with the technique for a few weeks now (I actually wrote a post for the Jenna Cole blog) and so I have a few photos that will help you see the difference between shooting wide and Freelensing. All image in this post have only had basic adjustments for white balance, exposure, contrast, etc. No fancy Photoshop tricks I promise!

The photo on the left was Freelensed. On the right is an image shot wide, at about f/2.2.

I am loving how this one turned out. See how the focus is on a bit of a diagonal in the rop right corner of the frame, right on his face? I think it isolates him really beautifully.

Another side-by-side. On the left I was using the Canon 85mm at around f/2.2, and on the right I had disconnected the lens and tilted it around a bit to try to get the two of them in focus. Though I like that you can see more of the temple spire in the background in the image on the left, I like the way the light really hugs them when Freelensing.

Both of these are Freelensed. Isn’t this side-by-side comparison cool? First he is in focus, and then in the right image, she is. In both images it’s almost like the plane of focus in creating a u-shape around them. Look at the right image. Her arm is in focus, her face, and the grass down to her right is in focus as well. The middle of her dress, and her left arm, are blurry!

A shot from their wedding day (the above images were taken at their bridal session the Wednesday before they got married). The image on the left was taken at around f/2.2, on the right I popped my lens off to try to isolate the card in the far right corner that says “Be like me”. (This was an advice board where guests told the new couple secrets for marriage success 🙂 ).

Ryan’s post really tells you all you need to know, but I’ll tell you the few things I’ve learned so far:

1. Your lens only needs to pop off the mount a tiny bit, if you pull it too far from the sensor nothing will be in focus!

2. Set your exposure first. Don’t worry about the aperture setting, once you disconnect it from the camera there is no “aperture setting”. You’ll control the brightness/darkness by working the shutter speed and ISO.

3. You want to meter so you’re exposing a stop or two under what you normally would. Once you disconnect the lens more light hits the sensor.

4. Set your focus before you detach the lens. It’s pretty hard to hold the camera body, hold the lens, and manipulate the focus ring all at once. To change the focus you both move the lens around, and twist around the focus ring. Auto-focus is not longer an option, as you have removed your lens so it is no longer communicating with your camera body.

5. Start practicing indoors, if you’re comfortable then you can move outside and start worrying about dust and wind.

6. You’re going to look like you have absolutely no idea what you are doing, as the lens clanks around a bit, and it will take a LOT of practice and missed shots to get some like what I’ve posted here. Stick with it though, with a good deal of practice you’ll be able to craft some really unique images with the equipment you already and no Photoshop necessary!

8 thoughts on “Freelensing

  1. I have a lens baby that does this effect nicely. I dont think I would trust myself to detach the lens just yet.

  2. Looks neat–I’d love to try it, but I am so afraid of hurting my sensor. I think I’ll wait until we get back from the sand & humidity in Florida first!

  3. This is amazing! I love your images! And I think I love these more than tilt shift exactly for the reason that the focus can be not just one spot but a line! Very impressive!! I will have to try it too now 🙂

  4. I’ve been meaning to try this for awhile… tell me, if you would- is it bad to switch your camera on and off while the lens is disengaged? Should I turn the camera on, do my necessary focusing/metering adjustments, THEN detach the lens and start shooting or would it be best to do the adjustments, turn off the camera, detach the lens, then turn the camera on and commence shooting? Sorry if that was confusing. I’m just deathly afraid of damaging my equipment in any way.

    Jenna Reply:

    I actually don’t know the answer to this! I think Ryan says to turn the camera off but I’m not sure? I don’t, but you shouldn’t take the way I do it as the best way.

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