how to use a lensbaby: your starter guide

by Nina Mingioni

how to use a lensbaby: your starter guide photo

You may be seeing photographers share photos with delicious blur – they very well may have been taken with one of the many Lensbaby lenses. Whether you’ve never heard of these before, just getting started with yours, or looking for more tips on using a Lensbaby, this post is for you!

I never leave my house without one of these. It’s true – my camera bag is my purse, and even if I leave my camera at home, I will usually find a Lensbaby nestled next to my iPad and my wallet. Lensbaby lenses let your creativity soar. The images you make with them are so unique that it is difficult to reproduce them by yourself.  Eventually, you will learn to pre-visualize your scene in “Lensbaby,” knowing where you want the focus to fall, and what part of the frame will disintegrate into blur.

how to use a lensbaby: your starter guide photo

Edge 80

What is a Lensbaby?

Lensbaby makes a line of tilt-focus lenses that create very unique images with an area of sharp focus, surrounded by fading blur. Lensbaby lenses are different from traditional tilt-shift lenses in that there is no shifting mechanism – you cannot slide the lens up, down, or sideways while it is mounted on your camera. However, you can tilt the lens (like a tilt-shift lens) which allows the photographer to shift the area of focus in the image they make.

Lensbaby lenses do not communicate with your camera in any way. This means that you will have to manually set the aperture of the lens and manually focus your lens.

how to use a lensbaby: your starter guide photo

Sweet 35

Understanding the equipment

Lensbaby lenses have two parts, lens body and optic.

Lensbaby used to manufacture several different lens bodies, but at this point they are focused on making and selling their best, the Composer Pro. The Composer Pro has a part that attaches to your camera (they make mounts that suit all major brands), a part that attaches to the lens optic, and a tilting mechanism between them (which is really a ball joint).

Lensbaby makes many different optics, but the most popular ones are Sweet 35 (35mm), Double Glass (50mm), and Edge 80 (80mm).

Both Sweet 35 and Double Glass optics give you a circular area of focus (the so-called “sweet spot”), while the Edge 80 gives you the slice of focus.

The biggest plus of the Sweet 35 and Edge 80 optics is that you can control the aperture by simply twisting a ring on the optic. Double Glass optic has aperture discs that you can exchange using a little magnetic tool.

how to use a lensbaby: your starter guide photo

Sweet 35

how to use a lensbaby: your starter guide photo

Edge 80

You need just one Composer Pro lens body;  all the optics are interchangeable.

Is Lensbaby for you?

Just because you love looking at images with lots of blur, it does not necessarily mean that you will love making them. Enter the Lensbaby Spark, to which I frequently refer to as the “Gateway Lensbaby.” The Spark is a one-piece Lensbaby that has an optic already attached to an accordion-type tilting mechanism.  It is a 50mm lens with a fixed f/5.6 aperture.  At $90, it is most certainly a bargain.

The Spark is how I started out. I had mine for exactly 3 days before I realized that I loved the images I was making and I was ready to jump all in. I then bought a Composer Pro with Sweet 35 optic. Thus, my love affair with Lensbaby began.

how to use a lensbaby: your starter guide photo

Lensbaby Spark

Practicing Manual Focus

As I mentioned above, Lensbaby lenses do not communicate with your camera, and you will need to focus them manually. While this sounds daunting at first, learning manual focus will improve your photography, period. It is a great skill to have, and it is most certainly something that improves with practice.

how to use a lensbaby: your starter guide photo

Sweet 35

Here are some simple tips to make manual focusing easier:

  1. Remember which eye you focus with and adjust your diopters to that eye. Lots of people have different vision in both eyes – this difference may be subtle, and you may or may not be aware of it.  However, this slight variation will make a big difference when focusing manually, so take notice of which eye you prefer to focus with.
  2. Consider a new eye cup.  Some time ago, I got a Hoodman HoodEYE cup, which is bigger than the standard eye cup that is included with cameras. It does a great job preventing stray light from entering the viewfinder and, because it is not symmetrical, it reminds me to use my left eye to focus.
  3. Many photographers prefer to use Liveview and zoom in when focusing with the Lensbaby lenses. While this is not my preferred method, I have certainly used it more than once. When previewing your scene on the LCD in Liveview, the brightness of this image is determined by your camera (this is called “Exposure simulation”). If your LCD image appears too dark when you are using Liveview, you will have to disable exposure simulation under your menu options to get a nice, bright image.
how to use a lensbaby: your starter guide photo

Sweet 35

Practice, practice, practice

This part is obvious, right? Very few photographers, even if quite experienced, make amazing Lensbaby images straight out of the box. When I got my Sweet 35 optic, I loved it right away. However, my Edge 80 took some time getting used to: to be exact, a month of shooting exclusively with the Edge 80! Ultimately, it was worth it, and the Edge 80 is my favorite optic of the two.  You will make some great images by accident in the beginning, but the real skill that comes with practice is making a Lensbaby image that truly matches your vision.

how to use a lensbaby: your starter guide photo

Edge 80

My final – and perhaps most valuable- tip is this: don’t practice on uncooperative models. Just don’t do it! You will hate your Lensbaby, your children, or both! Start off with inanimate subjects or (willing) adult models.

how to use a lensbaby: your starter guide photo

Edge 80

For a more in-depth discussion of Lensbaby lenses and how to use these one-of-a-kind lenses and optics in different photography genres, join me at Click Away. I will be leading a small group session, as well as hands-on practice sessions, and a Lensbaby photowalk in Salt Lake City.

how to use a lensbaby: your starter guide photo

Edge 80

how to use a lensbaby: your starter guide photoNina Mingioni, Pennsylvania
CM Mentor
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Nina is a hobbyist photographer who lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She loves many genres, including street, urban, macro, and nature photography, and, of course, capturing the details in lives of her two boys. She shoots mostly prime lenses, but never leaves her house without one of her Lensbaby lenses. In imagery, she is drawn to lines, patterns, details, textures, and light – and capturing the geometry, order, and beauty these elements bring into the chaos of life.

Read all photography tutorials by Nina Mingioni.

sponsored giveaway!

how to use a lensbaby: your starter guide photo

We have a fun giveaway for you today brought by Lensbaby.  The prize will be a Lensbaby Spark, retail value $90! The Lensbaby Spark creates images with a sharp spot of focus surrounded by beautiful blur. Bend, squeeze and stretch the lens to focus your shot. Express your creativity and capture the magic of everyday moments with the Lensbaby Spark. Available in Canon EF and Nikon F mounts.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

***Disclaimer: Nina’s thoughts are her own and were not influenced by this article being sponsored.  Her love for Lensbaby lenses began in January 2013.

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