I have been a huge fan of the Lensbaby selective focus lenses since I got a Lensbaby 2.0 years ago. I then starting using the “Franken-Lens”, the Lensbaby 3G, and now I use the Lensbaby Composer with its different interchangeable optics. For years now I have wanted to use a Lensbaby lens to shoot an entire wedding from start to finish.
While the Lensbaby lenses are generally used very sparingly for a few portraits and maybe a few detail/ring shots at any given wedding, certainly nobody would want to do an entire wedding with one. Part of it is that us wedding photographers strive for perfection, this is not really a strong point for a Lensbaby as its purpose in life is to distort perfection by causing a smearing (smudging + tearing) effect that is amplified the further you get away from the focus “sweet spot”. This smearing effect adds a dream, surreal look to many images.
Secondly, a wedding is a constantly moving and rather dynamic shooting environment that is already pushing the photographer in terms of composure, lighting, posing, group management, and camera settings…adding manual focus into that equation will slow you down to a relative crawl.
So we know that the heavy selective focus and shallow depth of field may not suite everyone’s tastes (especially not for every image) and that manual focus is a pain, then why do this? Mostly because I wanted a challenge and shooting an entire wedding with the Lensbaby presented both a technical challenge as well as an artistic challenge.
I want to point out that I don’t consider myself to be an artistic person. I consider myself to be a technical shooter. I know the elements that make a good image, I know the lighting that makes a good image, and I know the composition that makes a good image. Understanding these elements and how they work has let me develop my style. Using a Lensbaby requires much more thought, you really need think about the overall image. How will you set the focus point, then work to get a good spot focus, its actually a lot of work, and not really the side of my brain that works the best.
Even though I have several years of experience with the Lensbaby Composer, I was going to shoot more in one day than I have shot with all of the Lensbaby lenses I have ever owned combined. I already know that the percentage of “keepers” is much lower than normal because focusing can be difficult, especially with moving subjects and low light conditions.
Finding the Right Wedding
Now I would never suggest to a wedding client that I would like to shoot their entire wedding with a strange lens that is going to do some weird things to their images. A wedding client expects most images to be sharp and focused. Finding the right situation is exactly why I never did this project sooner. About a week or so earlier I was chatting with fellow wedding photographer Chris Diset and we were chatting about personal projects. His current project is a collection he is working on that are all shot at 1/8 shutter speed. When I told him about wanting to do the Lensbaby project, he immediately invited me to do it in conjunction with a wedding he was going to be shooting. This is why I always encourage people to network and become friends with other photographers, if I avoided being friendly with other photographers, this opportunity may never have presented itself.
The Techie Details
As I have already talked about, the challenge of shooting with the Lensbaby was most certainly the reason why I wanted to do it. Chris hooking me up with the wedding provided the when. The final piece is to talk about the how.
First we should understand a little more about a Lensbaby Composer. Unlike a regular lens, you have a fixed focal length (about 55mm) and a fixed aperture (selected by physically changing discs inside the lens) which I had set at f/5. Since I was going to be using a Canon EOS 50D, this means I would be using an effective focal length of about 88mm due to the crap factor of the 50D’s sensor. You can also move the lens around to adjust where the sweet spot of focus will be. Getting the focus spot where you want and then getting your focus dialed in can dramatically slow down your shooting.
The biggest hurdle is getting the focus right. This is really a challenge in the best of conditions and even with the f/5 aperture disc, the depth of field is extremely shallow so people walking towards you or away from you can be exceptionally difficult to stay in focus. In this situation, a taking several shots quickly while making fine adjustments to do a “focus bracket” will certainly help improve your odds of getting a good image.
When the shot doesn’t call for moving subjects, a simple way to get a clean shot was to switch to Live View mode, dial in the focus and take the shot.
Even with all the tricks I could muster, and with deleting obviously bad images in-camera, when it came time for processing, only about 25% were considered “keepers”. This would normally be a horrible percentage but considering the challenge, I was actually pretty pleased.
I am quite pleased overall with most of the images I decided to include in the collection and it does represent an actual wedding from beginning to end. The comments have generally all been very positive. I knew there would a handful of “Oh, I would never shoot an entire wedding with a Lensbaby” which means they didn’t get the point of the project. I never intended that these images would make up the only images taken at a wedding. I most certainly took a second shooter position in getting the images as that was the most appropriate and responsible thing to do for the most important images of someone’s life.
Why not an _________?
The most common question is “why not an iPhone?”, well…for starters…I don’t own an iPhone and I wanted a real challenge. The iPhone is just like any other point & shoot camera being mostly an automatic camera. It also would allow me to use additional lighting as needed. The Lensbaby presented a very unique challenge without the benefit of much of the automatic features. Certainly another challenge, and one I may do, will be to shoot an entire wedding with a Holga. With very little control (fixed focal length, two aperture settings, fixed ISO, fixed shutter speed) you either really need to know what you are doing to get a good exposure or get really lucky. At least with the Lensbaby I had the advantage of being connected to a modern day DSLR with internal exposure metering and much more control over different settings.
What Did I Learn?
If you put a lot of thought, energy, and time into a personal project, I would hope that you walk away from it with something more than images. The Lensbaby forces you to slow down, it forces you to be intentional in your shots, to be methodical in what you are getting. You certainly don’t “spray and pray” or you will end up with tons of bad images. There is no zoom, if you want a tighter shot, you walk closer. Unless you are swapping out aperture discs, there are no aperture settings, if you want more or less depth of field you have to move closer or further.
I feel going through this exercise will certainly carry over to my regular shooting as I strive to, as the Lensbaby slogan goes, see things in a new way. The exercise of really taking the time to get as good of a shot as possible is a lesson many of us need to learn.
Written by Kerry Garrison
Kerry is a orange county based wedding, portrait and commercial photographer who has come out from behind the lens to create Camera Dojo, a website and companion podcast that helps photography enthusiasts hone their skills. Whether he is writing tutorials, doing product reviews, or working on the podcast, Kerry believes in paying-it-forward to give back for all the help he got from other photographers when he was getting started.
Kerry knows his way around the camera and offers his unique perspective about learning the craft of photography and making the most out of the tools and equipment you have at your disposal. With years of teaching experience under his belt, Kerry can take difficult or complicated topics and explain them in a way that makes it simple for anyone to follow and yet detailed enough to help teach the topic properly.
Kerry is also starting a Learning Lightroom Workshop tour, for more information, check out http://cameradojo.com/workshops.
Kerry lives in southern California with his wife, two kids, two cats, two dogs, plus lots of camera gear.