Editor's note: This month only – buy my latest ebook Up Close: A Guide to Macro & Close-Up Photography for just $10. Start making beautiful close-up photos today! Thanks for reading, Andrew.
If you’ve ever felt your creativity is limited by the lenses that you normally use on your camera then you may be looking for something that helps you see a little differently. There are a number of ways you could achieve this, but one of the most interesting is exploring the range of lenses made by a company called Lensbaby.
What are Lensbaby lenses for?
You may be wondering why photographers use Lensbaby lenses. The best answer I can give you is that they give you a different type of bokeh, or background blur, than you get with regular camera lenses. This helps you create photos with atmosphere and feeling.
Let me give you an example. Here’s a photo I made of my son Alex holding some yellow berries in his hand. I used a Fujinon 35mm lens set to f1.4. As you would expect, the background is blurred and there’s nothing unusual about the bokeh.
Now here’s a similar photo made with a Lensbaby Sol 45 lens. When you look closely at the bokeh you’ll see that it has a different quality. It’s hard to describe, but it has a kind of distorted, swirly look. That’s the difference that using a Lensbaby lens makes.
Lensbaby lenses are fun to use. They give you a new way of seeing and creative photographers love them.
How to decide which Lensbaby lenses to buy
Before you rush out and buy a Lensbaby lens it’s a good idea to do some research. Lensbaby has a range of optics and it’s better to choose just one or two and get to know them well rather than buy five or six different lenses.
Start by looking at the gallery on the Lensbaby USA website, where you’ll find some good examples of photos made with Lensbaby lenses.
You can also check out the accounts of photographers who use Lensbaby lenses, such as Anne Belmont, who uses them to make beautiful close-up photos of flowers.
Manual focus only
All Lensbaby lenses are manual focus only. In some ways this is a good thing because it slows you down and forces you to consider your composition before you press the shutter button. But it also means that they’re not practical for fast moving subjects, such as kids running around.
Lensbaby lenses are easiest to use on cameras with focus peaking, as it helps you see which part of the photo is in sharp focus, and where the blur is.
The Sol 45 lens
I own two Lensbaby lenses – the Sol 45 and Edge 50.
This is the Sol 45 lens mounted on a Fujifilm camera (with a lens hood that I bought separately).
The Sol 45 lens gives you a circle of sharp focus surrounded by blur. You move the circle of sharpness around the frame by tilting the lens. In the photo below, for example, the circle of focus is over the house, and the rest of the frame is blurred.
The Sol 45 has a fixed f3.5 aperture, and two plastic blades that you can pull down over the lens to change the shape of the bokeh.
The Edge 50 lens
The Edge 50 lens is a bit like a tilt-shift lens without shift movements. It lets you create photos with a straight line of focus across the frame.
It works with the Composer Pro II, a kind of lens mount that attaches to your camera and which takes matching Lensbaby lenses. Once you own the Composer Pro II, you can buy several relatively inexpensive lens attachments to go with it.
This is the Edge 50 lens.
And this is the type of photo you can make with it. As you can see the line of focus goes across the image. Tilt the lens to make the line of focus go across the frame, or up and down, or even at a diagonal. The lens has a variable aperture, so you can stop down to increase depth of field.
What subjects work best with Lensbaby lenses?
For me, the best subjects for Lensbaby lenses are portraits, close-up photos and fine art black and white.
Lensbaby lenses for portraits
Lensbaby lenses give you an extra option for making portraits. Use them when you need something that’s a little different, or you want to experiment with something creative, especially in black and white.
Here are two portraits that I made of my son Alex with the Sol 45 lens.
And here’s a photo that I made of a newly married couple with the Edge 50. I wasn’t the official photographer, I just happened to be there when they posed outside a public building.
Lensbaby lenses for close-up photography
If you have an extension tube you can use your Lensbaby lenses for close-up photography. The distinctive blur gives your close-up photos a dreamy, atmospheric look. Check out the work of Anne Belmont to get a good idea of what you can do.
Lensbaby also sell a set of three close-up lenses (+1, +2 and +4 diopter) to use with any lens with a 46mm filter thread.
Here’s a photo I made with the Sol4 45 lens and a 16mm extension tube.
I made this close-up photo with the same extension tube and the Edge 50 lens.
Lensbaby lenses for fine art black and white photography
If you like to make black and white photos that you can print out and hang on the wall Lensbaby lenses give you a way of creating something a little different with an arty feel.
I made the set of photos below of abandoned Cornish mineworks with the Edge 50 lens.
And this set of images of winter trees with the Sol 45 lens.
Lensbaby lenses for general use
I’ve also enjoyed using the Edge 50 as a kind of walkabout lens. It gives me a different way of seeing things that I’ve enjoyed. Here are some more examples.