The Magic of Lensbaby

Photo of a dahlia shot at f/11.
Dahlia at f/11.

Story and photos by Donna Eaton

Lensbabies are award-winning creative-effects lenses, optics and accessories that allow us to see things differently, more creatively and help us get in touch with our artistic sides. I particularly like using Lensbabies for flower photography and would like to share some of my favorite photos and tips.

Aperture and focus are manual on all of Lensbaby lenses with aperture being controlled by a ring on the lens. One thing to remember when shooting with Lensbabies is that the metadata will not be recorded, so there’s no way to go back and see what aperture you used for any given shot. I recommend getting into a habit of bracketing your apertures in a set order so that you will know which aperture you used. I try to shoot a subject at f/4, f/8, and f/11, in that order, when shooting flowers. That way, when I’m going through my images, I know what aperture I was using for a particular image. That helps me with future decisions in my flower photography. However, I will sometimes go a little crazy and shoot at a lower or higher aperture depending on the subject. Using live view is also helpful in choosing your apertures and checking your focus.

Part of the joy of using Lensbabies is the ability to really get creative and try different things! There are times, for example, when I want to get a little closer to my subject. I have a set of macro diopters for each of my Lensbaby lenses. Diopters, or close-up filters, screw onto the front of the lens and come in a variety of strengths. They shorten the minimum focusing distance of a lens, allowing you to get closer to your subject. You can purchase these from most any merchant that carries photography supplies. Just google “macro diopters” and you will find quite a few. Just be sure and get the right thread size to fit the lens you are using.

Lensbaby Velvet 85

The Velvet 85 captures your image with sharp detail overlaid with radiant velvety glow. You can compose impressionistic masterpieces with a soft overlay at low apertures, straight out of camera. Use higher apertures to bypass the glow and make images with a more crisp, detailed look. It works just like a regular lens, meaning it has glass and there is no twisting or bending. It has minimum focusing distance of 9.5 feet. The Velvet 85 is a beautiful portrait lens and I find it makes amazing flower portraits.

The dahlias in the opening image and one immediately below were both shot at f/11 and have a deep depth of field.

Close up photo of a dahlia shot at f/11
Dahlia at f/11.

This image of a nigella was at f/4 (immediately below) and the last image of rudbeckia was at f/2.8. You can see that the lower the aperture, the more softness is created.

Close up photo of a nigella flower at f/4.
Nigella flower at f/4.
Close up photo of a rudbeckia flower at f/2.8.
Rudbeckia at f/2.8.

Composer Pro II & Sweet 50 Optic

The Composer Pro II is a body that tilts and swivels, moving the area of focus, and holds different optics. Simply swap out the inside optic, to create a variety of selective focus effects at different focal lengths. There are several choices of optics, but I really like Sweet 50 optic with the Composer Pro II. It is wonderful combination that will highlight your subject in a sharp sweet spot of focus surrounded by dreamy blur. The ability to tilt the Composer Pro II body gives you the power to place the spot of focus anywhere in the frame. The way I approach photographing with this combination is to keep the optic in the center of the frame to start so that I have a center focus. After I feel comfortable with it, I will tilt the optic to different areas of the frame until I achieve the focus area I want. It takes practice but I love the way the focus falls off creating a dreamy image and surrounding your subject in super smooth blur and bokeh.

The dahlia and the hydrangea below were both shot with the Composer Pro II and the Sweet 50 optic. Notice how the focus falls off around the edges giving the images a soft, dreamy look.

Close up photo of a dahlia shot with Sweet 50 optic.
Dahlia shot with Sweet 50 optic.
Close up photo of a hydrangea shot with Sweet 50 optic.
Hydrangea shot with Sweet 50 optic.

Lensbaby Twist 60

The Twist 60 is available as a stand-alone lens or as an optic to combine with the Composer Pro II. It allows you to make your subject really stand out by surrounding it in twisty bokeh & a subtle vignette. It has a large central area of focus and is a 60mm focal length with a f/2.5 aperture. It has minimum focusing distance of 18 inches and works best on a full-frame camera. It really creates a unique swirl effect. Finding a subject that is pulled away from the background seems to work best as it highlights the subject and creates that twisty, swirly background behind it. I like to find a busy background that is filled with color or repeating subjects if possible. It’s one of those rare occasions that having an attractive & busy background really works! Having the large focus area is great for keeping the subject sharp and allowing the subject to be the “star of the show”.

In the image of the azalea below, the branch was much further away from the colorful background, so I made sure to leave plenty of negative space, allowing the twist effect to be easily seen.

Close up photo of azalea flowers using the Twist 60.
Azalea flowers using the Twist 60.

Lensbaby Sol 45

The Lensbaby Sol is a 45mm focal length lens that is both lightweight and compact. It creates a sweet spot of focus surrounded by smooth bokeh and gentle blur. This lens has minimum focusing distance of 14 inches. It has a fixed aperture of f/3.5 and two bokeh blades to add texture. You can use both blades, one blade or none. The moveable blades allow you to add subtle lines and texture to your background. You can rotate the blades to suit your taste.

The Sol allows you to emphasize what’s most important in your frame with a sharp spot of focus and to get creative with the background. You can lock your focus in the center position or release to tilt the lens. I would recommend starting out with it in the locked position. You will want to find an interesting & attractive background to add to the effect of this lens. The blades can really add some interesting texture, but I have found that most often I like the effect of not engaging the blades. I will often shoot with both blades, one blade, or none while I’m on location and then decide which I like better when I’m home on the computer and can see the results much better than in the field.

The dahlia below was isolated from the background so I made sure to leave negative space showing the background filled with dahlia blooms. I did not engage the blades in this image.

Photo of a dahlia with negative space and no blades used.
Dahlia with negative space and no blades used.

In the second photo below of the petite pink dahlia, the background was a field of colorful dahlias, so I left negative space and used both blades to create some interesting texture.

Photo of a petite pink dahlia with blades used on negative space to create texture.
Petite pink dahlia with blades used on negative space to create texture.

There is a learning curve with any Lensbaby lens, so practice is the key. Don’t be afraid to experiment! I’ve only covered a few of my favorites. There are a lot more lenses and optics to explore as well as different areas of photography. So, grab a Lensbaby, have fun and explore your artistic vision!

Donna Eaton is a full-time professional photographer & educator. She is a native of North Carolina and just recently relocated back to North Carolina with her husband and cats after spending the last 10 years in the upstate of South Carolina. She spent eleven years as the staff photographer for a raptor rehabilitation and education center before venturing out on her own as a professional photographer in 2008.

Donna conducts many photography workshops and is a sought out featured speaker. She has been a leader for NANPA Regional Events and she has been an instructor at John C. Campbell Folk School and the Bryan Peterson School of Photography (www.bpsop.com). Her work has been featured in numerous publications. Donna was a winner in Nature’s Best Magazine’s annual Backyard Photo Contest and a winner in the highly honored category of Nature’s Best Magazine’s Windland Smith Rice International Awards as well as being a guest writer on the Nature’s Best Blog. She is represented by Fogstock and Getty Images.

See more of her work at her website: www.donnaeatonphoto.com