Lately, I have really been happiest with my images that push the limits. The images that don’t follow the rules. The images where I let go and let the moment take control. The images that others may find flaws in, I find beauty and a story.
That is what freelensing is all about – letting go. Using a different technique to capture the light, the moment. Not worrying about a technically perfect photo; instead, embracing the flaws and finding the beauty in them.
I dabbled in freelensing in the past, but it wasn’t until I made it my mission to learn it and do well with it that I finally got it. I made my mind up that I was determined to figure it out and didn’t give up until I got it. You have to do it a lot, and I mean a LOT, if you want to get good at it. So that’s what I did. There are so many photographers who take this and just fly with it! I love looking at others’ freelensed images. Many of them have released tutorials as well, but I hope that you will take something new from my tips that will help you figure out this fun technique.
First, let’s talk lenses. I own a variety of prime lenses from a 20mm to an 85mm. I’ve found that my 50mm 1.4 gives me results that I like the most. It’s been my go-to lens lately just because I like to have the option to freelens a few shots whenever I am shooting. I have noticed that with a wider lens, such as the 35mm, it is harder to get focus. I do own a lensbaby, but it being an 80mm makes it hard for what I want to shoot sometimes, so it is nice to be able to freelens with my 50mm and still get creative results. I don’t have a zoom lens so I have not tried freelensing with one, but I don’t imagine zooms would be a good choice. Having a small, light weight lens is important. You have to be able to have a strong grip on the lens and move it around very carefully. I think the 50mm’s size is just right and the focal length is what has yielded the best results for me.
The first thing I do is set the focus to infinity and I usually have my aperture at around 2.2 – 3.2. After you get your settings as close to what you’ll need as possible, take your lens off. With your lens pressed up against the body as if you’re about to attach it, point your camera to an object and look through the viewfinder. I want you to be about 12-18 inches from the subject for now as I think this is the easiest way to start out and see the focus come into the photo. You’ll notice that your subject is not in focus at all at first. Now, slowly start to tilt the bottom of the lens up and away from the camera body. Keep going until you find focus in your subject, then take a shot. I prefer tilting the bottom of the lens up, because I like the look that I get with that angle and find it’s easiest for me to maneuver my lens that way, but you can tilt it diagonally, sideways, or from the top. Play around with the direction you tilt it and find what you like best – this may change depending on the subject as well. I suggest starting out shooting inanimate objects until you get the hang of finding the desired plane of focus. Moving subjects are much harder and you will get too frustrated if you start out with that kind of subject.
I can almost guarantee that you won’t get it right away. I don’t mean that in a discouraging way, but the opposite actually. Just know that it takes time for everyone but if you keep at it long enough, it will click eventually! As I mentioned before, practice on inanimate objects at first rather than say, children or other moving subjects. As with anything, the more you do it, the better you will be at it.
Before we wrap things up, there are a few things that you should be aware of before you begin. We all know how important it is to keep the insides of your camera clean. If it is really windy, raining, if you’re on a sandy beach, or in an extra dusty area, it’s typically not a good idea to freelens. Use your best judgement and take care of your gear. Now having said that, there are ways around those situations sometimes. I have a whole series of freelensed shots where it was raining at sunset (gorrrgeous!!), but I was inside a garage where it was nice and dry the whole time. Be resourceful and find ways to get those unique shots and still keep your gear safe!
My biggest advice is to just shoot shoot shoot. Then shoot some more. Like I stated in the beginning, you’re going to have to do this a lot if you want to get good at it. Become obsessed with it; determined to get some images you can fall in love with. We all get into creative ruts at times, and trying a new technique is a perfect way to get out of one. Let go of technicalities and perfection. Embrace the beauty in the imperfections.
Good luck and I truly hope my tips have helped you!
Update to my tips and tricks for freelensing: A recent blog post from my Photo Deets Series shares a new technique I’ve started using to help me achieve focus better and easier. Click here to check it out!