I am often asked for tips on freelensing. Honestly, I tried for years to freelens with no success. Eventually, something finally clicked and now I’m completely hooked on this technique. It takes practice and patience, but once you learn how to control your lens to get your desired effect, it adds such depth and interest to your work. I also shoot with Nikon, which makes freelensing slightly more complicated. Here are my tips and tricks for freelensing Nikon style (if you don’t shoot Nikon… don’t worry! A lot of this applies to you too!)
Everyone freelenses a little differently. I personally prefer a sharp area of focus with the blur adding interest around my subject. No matter how you freelens, it’s important to let the “rules” slide. This technique by itself breaks traditional photography rules.
Ok… let’s get down to business. In case you aren’t familiar, freelensing is taking an image while your lens is detached from your camera body. You keep your lens close to your camera body and move the lens slightly to achieve selective focus and dreamy blur.
First, set your exposure settings in camera with your lens attached (ISO, Shutter Speed and White balance). If you shoot Canon, freelensing is a bit easier. Canon lenses have an aperture ring and your lens will stay open when detached from your camera. I shoot Nikon, so I have to “rig” my lens to stay open when detached from the camera. I’ve used pieces of a straw or masking tape to hold my lens open (see pictures below). Others have had success using a piece of thick paper or card stock.
TIP: If you shoot Nikon and don’t want to “rig” your lens, you can purchase a Nikon lens that has an aperture ring. I personally have a vintage Nikkor 50mm lens with an aperture ring that doesn’t require any rigging to keep open once detached. These are usually not very expensive and can be found on Ebay or Amazon.
Once you have your exposure settings ready, set your focus to manual and set the lens to infinity. Now is the fun part. Detach your lens from your camera but keep it close to the camera body. A little movement goes a LONG way. You don’t have to move your lens far from the camera, or tilt it in a big way to freelens. Move your lens slightly from left to right, or up and down and see what happens to your slice of focus. Also – don’t forget to physically move as well. If your camera has a “Live View” function, this can be very helpful. Flip that Live View on and it’s much easier to see where your slice of focus is.
TIP: When you are just starting out, try shooting still life or a person who is still (like a sleeping child).
My biggest piece of advice when learning to freelens is to not give up. There is a big learning curve and it takes a while to get a feel for it. But once you do… it’s pure magic!