The first time I came across the term “freelensing”, I was reading a comment in one of the photography groups I had just recently joined in February of 2016. In situations like this, it would have been nice if would have made note of the artist and the image that inspired me to google how to do it, I would love to give them credit right now. It would also be nice if I could say I read a few things online and went out and created magic right then, buuut that’s not how it happened. In reality, I was scared to even try. As with a lot of things you read on the internet, the scary accounts of possible damage, to my camera and lens, stuck out and didn’t seem worth the risk. However, I kept seeing these dreamy OOF bokeh-holy images, the creation of such beauty being credited to freelensing. Soon thereafter, I was happy to have found and enrolled in an online course that focused on using tilt-shift lens and the freelensing technique to achieve a dreamy, painterly look. I learned a lot was so inspired by the artist, Justyna Butler, and her course that I can honestly say both were a huge influence on how I capture images today.
When I first unmounted my lens, which was a brand new Sigma Art 35 1.4, from my brand new Nikon d750, I was a nervous wreck. I didn’t have a second body, or at the time, any other lenses. I had zero extra money to even buy a cheap nifty 50 use just for freelensing. I reeeeally wanted to try freelensing so badly that I was risking what seemed to be EVERYTHING to do it (without our gear we are dead in the water, no?). And boy, was I awkward it at first trying to hold the lens and camera, but I practiced and practiced and soon I got comfortable shooting. That part wasn’t really tough compared to letting go of the rules. It was one thing to admire that dreamy look in another’s work, but in my own, I was frustrated and hard on myself about nailing focus. During these first attempts at freelensing I found standard objects flowers, weeds, leaves to capture. And doing so I learned and became more comfortable holding my lens. Looking back it took longer than I would like to admit to free myself and go for it with moving objects. Once I was able to let go of the constraints of the “perfect focus” I was able to cross the freelesning technique from still-life into my documentary work, capturing my children.
This technique crossed my path during a rut. Ya know, the lulls and dulls of inspiration. When all the every day, daily images have been taken, all the light of that season explored, and you’re sporting the “been there done that” attitude that kills your drive to create anything. For me, freelensing was a gateway to a creative place where I have been able to breed ideas and techniques together to continue to manipulate my craft, as a way to keep thing fresh and new. Being able to embrace distortion and OOF, slow shutter, in camera double exposure, tilt-shift lens, vintage film lenses, the list goes on – and hopefully, will continue to get longer, I enjoy exploring. When you find that something that really speaks to you, whether it is a project, an online course, another creative mind, a workshop, or a technique (or all the above) it becomes part of your journey and who you are as an artist. Not to say I wasn’t passionate about photography before freelensing, but I can say without a doubt, freelesing bore passion into photography, for me, in such a way that was not there before.
If you are just starting out or you have been inspired to come back to the Art of Freelensing a few tips that I feel are pretty fundamental in achieving success are as follows: Unmount your lens from your camera body, set your lens focus to infinity – if your lens does not have an infinity symbol shown – turn the focus ring all the way left. I like to put my camera on live view, for one bc it a larger (= easier) viewing screen and for two the mirror is put into a flipped up position, out of the way so not to hit the end of my lens (especially when I use my Helios; which has a longer contact ring). Position your lens so close to the camera that it IS touching the camera body, most of your image should be in focus when you look at the LV screen, then every so slightly tilt the lens, you will notice the focus changing, added blur and hopefully some light leaks. Because your focus has been set to infinity you will need to move yourself and your camera around to find the slice of focus or light leaks or flares that you desire. The only time I need to adjust my focus ring after it is unmounted is when I want a closer crop of my subject. There is no one way to freelens, these are a few tips that I use that I hope will help you get started. The more you practice the more you will find what is best for you and your art.
Carrine Powers is a daily life photographer living in Central Florida. She is a momma to 2 daughters, 2 sons, and a step-son. Currently, her work centers around her family, and the occasional client. She enjoys being involved in communities of interest, Photography, school PTA, and other Moms. She and her husband love to travel by road as often as possible, the mountains being a favorite.