Every time I have the opportunity to shoot with a new Lensbaby, I fall in love and swear the newest lens is my absolute favorite. Part of this is because the new effects ignite my creativity and inspire me to create in new ways. But the Lensbaby Velvet 85 has quickly became my new favorite lens. And I’m talking my overall favorite lens… not just my favorite Lensbaby.
First, 85mm has always been my favorite focal length to shoot with, so the Lensbaby Velvet 85 checks that box right off the bat. It’s an ideal and flattering focal length for portraits and it allows me to be farther away from my subject so I can watch moments unfold from a distance. This is super important for me as a storyteller.
Second, it’s also a macro lens, which allows me to capture nature on a whole new level.
Third, the rich filmy tones and ethereal glow (which I can control by stopping down the lens) adds such beautiful nostalgia and dreaminess to my images. I love all of my Lensbaby lenses, but I honestly struggle to take this one off of my camera. It really is that awesome.
To demonstrate this lens’s versatility, I decided to take it out on one of our regular Sunday adventures and leave all other lenses behind. I was committed to shooting everything with this lens, and I hoped to take in my surroundings and capture the entire scene around me, telling the story of our day. We ended up at a beach about an hour from my house on Lake Huron. Beaches in the Winter are one of my favorite places to explore. Always quiet, crowd free, and full of endless treasures.
After a walk through a pretty park, we found ourselves at the beach. The wind was making beautiful waves and it wasn’t long before my daughter took off to start throwing rocks in the water. This is one of her favorite things to do at any time of year. I always enjoy stepping back and watching her throw with all the might her little body can muster.
Since the Velvet 85 is a Macro Lens, I love how it allowed me to zoom in close and capture beautiful details and shots of the nature around me, without having to switch lenses. I also appreciated that opening up the lens resulted in a beautiful, nostalgic glow and incredible bokeh… especially when shooting the water!
I loved playing with the aperture on this lens to see the different effects I could produce. In this next series, I opened the aperture up wide as my daughter walked along the beach. Note the dreamy blur and the incredible foreground bokeh from the light shining on the water. The glow gives these images such a timeless feel for me… almost like remembering it in a dream.
I’ve heard frustrations from others about not loving the “Glow” this lens adds to images. I think this is due to the fact that many photographers that normally shoot wide open grab this lens and attempt to shoot with it the same as they would any other lens.
I have personally found that for storytelling and portraits, I like subtle or no glow in my images. This can be achieved by stopping down the lens. I also love the glow that the Velvet 85 gives macro and nature shots when shooting wide open. I normally always shoot pretty wide open for storytelling and portraits. On a regular prime lens, I usually shoot between f 1.8 – f 2.8 depending on the number of subjects in my frame. With the Lensbaby Velvet 85, I choose an aperture of f 4 – f 5.6 for storytelling and portraits. I still get great isolation of my subject and dreamy bokeh, but I also get more sharpness and less glow than I would get if I were to shoot wide open.
The narrower the aperture (greater f-stop number), the less glow!
The wider the aperture (smaller f-stop number), the more glow!
One of the things I love most about this lens is how the beautiful glow and blur makes every frame interesting and emotional. The textures and movement seem enhanced by the velvety tones and ethereal atmosphere. This is also a manual focus lens, which leaves more room for error… especially with moving subjects. This means that some images won’t be tack sharp, especially when wide open. This wasn’t a deal breaker for me, because emotion, nostalgia and authenticity are the most important elements to me in my storytelling.
Since Lensbaby Lenses all produce different effects and handle differently, I always commit to shooting with a new Lensbaby daily for at least 1 – 2 weeks. This allows me to experiment and really get a feel for what the lens has to offer. And, as with anything, practice makes perfect. The more you use a lens, the more it becomes an extension of your vision and a part of your voice. Give this lens a try for a couple weeks and I promise, you’ll fall in love with it like I have.
UPDATED NOVEMBER 15, 2020:
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