Experiments in freelensing

My hands have been full recently following the birth of my son, George, so I haven't been out and about with my camera as much as I would like. That hasn't stopped me experimenting at home, though, and George was the perfect subject - along with a bonus pic of my daughter Audrey, who is recovering from chickenpox.


I first heard about freelensing when I saw some wedding photographers using a tilt shift lens for their images. The resulting photographs had a very distinctive dreamy look, with massively out of focus areas of the image making the sharper elements 'pop.' They were harder for my eyes to read too, as the plane of focus was completely different to that of a regular lens, so it got my brain working and made me think about the photograph more, and drew me in.

I wanted to experiment with that sort of imagery, but when I looked at getting a tilt-shift lens for my Canon system, I was looking at £1000+. Next I looked at Lensbaby Composers, but even they were several hundred pounds. I did discover that these sort of effects can be replicated by software such as Alien Skin Exposure, but I prefer to achieve my photographs in camera as much as possible. 

Then I found out about freelensing.

How to take freelensing photographs

The idea is that you detach your lens from the front of your camera and simply move it around (tilt and shift) during exposure. This means that only selective parts of your photograph will be in focus, and it also lets in light leaks onto your sensor, which can add to the surreal, dreamy imagery.

I used a Canon 5D MKII with my 'nifty fifty' 50mm 1.8 lens. First I attached the lens to the camera, turned off autofocus and then manually focussed the lens to infinity. I then detached the lens from the camera body and started shooting.

I found that I had to shoot a lot of photographs to get a few keepers. You can switch to live view to see what areas you are getting in focus, but I preferred to look through the viewfinder. Some of the photographs below have a black ring on one or more edges. This is the body of the lens being picked up by the sensor. It is possible to take your lens apart for even more extreme effects. If you want to explore this and take your freelensing to the next level, I recommend you read Sam Hurd's blog about it.

I converted all of my photos to black and white as colour didn't add anything to the photographs, but next time I might take my camera outside for some macro freelensing, and introduce some colour. You don't need a macro lens - all you have to do is turn your lens around!

Freelensing does mean that your sensor is exposed to the elements, so be especially careful if you're trying this technique in a dusty or wet environment. That's why I did this indoors for my first try!

Freelensing for wedding photography

So, will I try freelensing for wedding photography? Maybe. I'll continue my experiments for now, perhaps on nature photographs next, then moving on to portraits and engagement shoots. If I get good results I'll try it out at a real wedding. Of course, it is only useful for a handful of shots, but the Canon 50mm 1.8 is small and easy to throw in a bag, so it wouldn't be too much of an inconvenience.

Watch this space!