Using Lensbaby Lenses for Creative Photography

Using Lensbaby Lenses for Creative Photography

Fashion photographer Frank Doorhof on how to use Lensbaby lenses for creative photography, from unique light effects to dreamy portraits.

My name is Frank Doorhof and I’m a fashion/celebrity photographer based in the Netherlands.

Over the years I’ve specialized in education and I teach workshops in our studio in Emmeloord twice a week. You can also find me at tradeshows and location workshops pretty much worldwide.

Let me start this article by saying that I love tech.

I’ve been shooting medium format for quite some time, I love the way my Huawei P30 Pro handles photography in a smartphone, and I recently dove into the complete mobile workflow based on an iPad Pro. So I always try to get the newest kit and techniques if that will help my workflow and work.

Another side of me is that I just love vintage – not only with photography but also with my guitars, comics, movies, etc. I even shoot some film from time to time. With my photography, I always try to combine everything I love together and come up with “new” and creative ways to make my images more unique.

Over the years I’ve collected quite some vintage lenses ranging from really crappy and cheap lenses to relatively more expensive but awesome lenses.

The cool thing is that often you can pick up those lenses for just a few bucks at flea markets. The attraction for me to those lenses is that they all have “something” – it’s hard to explain, but you could almost say they have a “soul”.

Yeah I know, it sounds a bit out there! But they really give me that feeling, and they’re also cheap enough to be used as gift ideas for photographers.

Shot during a workshop with our model/stylist Nadine and the Lensbaby Composer Pro with an 85mm.

I know I’m getting the best of the best out of my Sony lenses, but sometimes you want that little extra vignette, or that slightly glowy look, or that awesome “I’m afraid of light” lens flare…. Or that little tint from discoloration that you never really can correct (and why would you).

But in all fairness, the market isn’t that good anymore, most lenses are really showing their age, and when you buy from a dealer – well, they know what it’s worth to a collector so…. Better to buy new sometimes (just google what a Voigtlander goes for nowadays).

When I started testing out Lensbaby lenses many years ago I did like the idea of them, but they weren’t very practical for me at that moment. You needed to use aperture rings and my camera was far from practical for manual focus, so I stopped using them.

If you still have that same memory, forget about it. Times have changed.

With the new cameras with EVFs (Electronic Viewfinders) we have entered a world where using manual focus lenses is no problem at all anymore. You can use peaking, for example, to make sure that you nail your focus; and on some cameras, you can even zoom in really close to fine-tune that focus. This makes using a Lensbaby incredibly easy.

So what do I use Lensbaby lenses for?

Mostly I’m using the Lensbaby Composer Pro with an 85mm and 35mm. I love this system because it’s one composer on your camera and you can just switch over the optics. This means that when you travel you can take a lot of lenses with you in the same space where normally one small lens would fit.

The cool thing about the composer is that the optics are incredibly sharp, but thanks to the movements of the composer you can get some pretty cool focus effects.

Or you can make sure the focal plane is as flat as possible, meaning you can get an even focus on your subject even when at an angle.

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But for me… I just love the focus effects.

Now for some people, the following examples might be too much, but always remember you can vary the effect yourself.

Another shot of Nadine, taken with the Composer Pro and an 85mm.

These lenses also are great on the street.

I have to be honest, I haven’t used Lensbaby lenses a lot on the street yet, but very soon I’ll have some more free time and I’ll be shooting a lot more street style with them.

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lensbaby lenses for street photography

street photography with lensbaby

Street photography in New York using Lensbaby lenses.

The other thing I absolutely love is the lens flares they give.

Lens flares are awesome creative tools, although sometimes hard to control. If you find yourself struggling with this, remember that lens flares are caused by light hitting your lens – the more straight on the light hits, the more lens flares, so if it’s too much just use your hand to block the light, or use a flag (or a reflector, or a friend, whatever you have available to block the light hitting the lens).

But when it’s allowed to happen… man those babies rock.

These were all almost straight out of the camera (my retouch process is always pretty limited, skin work, tinting, small things, done).

velvet 85 lensbaby lens

velvet 85 lens flair

These were shot using the Velvet 85 from Lensbaby.

These were shot by the Velvet 85, another lens from Lensbaby. The cool thing about this lens is that it’s very glowy at apertures below 2.8, then between 2.8 and 4 it cleans up but gives you some cool out-of-focus and glowy effects, and above 5.6 it’s just a razor-sharp portrait lens.

This is one of my favorite shots with the Velvet 85 – you can see the way it almost mixes the colors and light.

lensbaby lens velvet 85

Color and light effects using the Lensbaby Velvet 85.

But with a big softbox behind the model, you get a different effect and the light really wraps around her.

lensbaby with softbox

Shot with the Lensbaby Velvet 85 with softbox.

Of course one could say, “I can do this in Photoshop.” Well, I know Photoshop a “bit” and indeed you can do a lot of these looks. But it’s not the real deal.

You can always emulate things, but when you start working with focus (like the Composers and Velvets) you are working on a two-dimensional plane, and when you use a lens it’s a three-dimensional one.

This means that on the emulation you can only “blur” one slice of the image in total (and I hate the word blur when it comes to focus because it’s not blur, but it is what it is on the Photoshop route) – it doesn’t matter if the model is one meter in front of the wall or against it.

…and this is 100% different from when you create the effect with a lens.

Seeing the almost unlimited number of things you can do with the Lensbaby line of products I highly, highly recommend them to everybody.

I absolutely love using them and when I teach workshops the attendees are often very surprised by the quality.

You can get them for Sony, Fujiflm, Canon, Nikon and Micro 4/3 systems –  check them out here – you will love them!

Disclaimer: All recommendations are impartial and based on user experience, with no bias to the products or the brand. The products in this post may contain affiliate links.

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  1. Elizabeth on November 8, 2019 at 8:50 pm

    I as just thinking this very morning about looking into getting a lensbaby, then a link to this article shows up in my inbox- must be fate! Thanks for the info

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