Creative Ideas: Lensbaby

The following book excerpt has been republished from Lensbaby: Bending Your Perspective by Corey Hilz with the permission of Focal Press. The complete book is available for purchase by users for 20% off the cover price for a limited time (use promo code “PHOTONET”).

Lensbaby: Bending Your Perspective. If you’ve ever wished you could learn about all of the creative possibilities the Lensbaby offers, this is the book for you! Seeing subjects with a new perspective is at the heart of the Lensbaby experience, and with the essential information found in this book, you’ll be able to take your creative exploration to the next level.

Creative Ideas

This is where your creativity comes into play. You now know about all the lenses, optics,
and accessories. Apply them to anything you photograph in whatever manner you can
imagine. Experiment! Have fun! So much about using the Lensbaby involves being creative.
Creativity can be found in how you frame your photograph, the perspective that you shoot from, and how you use the light. Even though the Lensbaby offers many creative possibilities
in such a little package, don’t forget about techniques or equipment you use when photographing with your “regular” lenses. Here are some ideas about what you can use with your Lensbaby photography. Many are techniques I use regularly for other types of photography, and I’ve simply applied them to the Lensbaby. You’ve probably got your own favorite tools and techniques—just don’t forget about them when you bring out the Lensbaby.


Overlays are another technique I use for non-Lensbaby photography. The concept of an overlay involves taking two photographs and blending them together (in camera or with software) by adjusting the opacity of one or both images. For Lensbaby and non-Lensbaby photography, I often use this technique to combine two photos of the same composition; one is in focus and the other out of focus. First I take a regular Lensbaby photo: one that’s sharp where I want it, has good composition, and so on. For the second photo, I keep the composition and exposure exactly the same but turn the focusing ring to defocus the image.

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In choosing how much to defocus the image, I still want to maintain the general form and shape of the subject or scene. Experiment with different amounts of defocusing to see what you like. The result of combining these two photos is a glowing edge around the sharp elements in the photo.

Final overlay: In-focus and out-of-focus photos combined.

When defocusing my Lensbaby, I’ve noticed that sometimes an unusual distortion appears; this can be a cool effect with overlays. In the out-of-focus image there is a ring of distortion around the part of the photo that was in focus. I think this stems from the Lensbaby’s sweet spot of focus. As a result it might not occur when you use optics that don’t have a sweet spot (Soft Focus, Pinhole/Zone Plate, Fisheye).

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It doesn’t happen every time I defocus the image. Combining the streaking from the sharp photo and the distortion ring from the defocused photo creates a burst or explosion-like effect around the sharp area. Since the effect is quite noticeable in the overlay, it’ll be pretty clear whether an image benefits from it or not. I usually combine the two photos using my Nikon camera’s Image Overlay function. For the two selected photos, I reduce the number below each thumbnail to X0.5. This evenly blends the photos together. You can only use files in the
Raw file format for in-camera overlays.

Overlay showing the result of the distortion effect.

If you have a Nikon camera, check your manual to see if you have the Image Overlay function. You’ll find it in either the Retouch or the Shooting Menu. The same result can easily be achieved in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements by making an opacity adjustment. It just takes a few steps:

  1. You want to have both images as separate layers in the same file. Open both photos,
    then make the defocused one the active window.
  2. Go to Select > All , then Edit > Copy.
  3. Switch to the sharp photo and choose
    Edit > Paste . Now you have each photo as a separate layer in the Layers Panel.
  4. Select the top layer and reduce the Opacity to blend the sharp photo with the out-of-focus one. I find 50 to 60% works well.
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Multiple Exposures


Multiple exposures is a technique that blends a number of photos (exposures) together. I first
started doing multiple exposures with a film camera. With film, you simply wouldn’t advance
the film between exposures, causing multiple images to be recorded on the same piece of film. With digital cameras, you still take the multiple photos, but the images are blended together by the camera or using software to create the multiple exposure.

I use multiple exposures to create photographs that have an impressionistic quality and convey a sense of movement. Multiple exposures retain something of the shape and form of the subject. I have an in-camera multiple exposure function on my Nikon camera, which allows me to select 2 to 10 exposures (set Auto Gain to On). I usually choose 9 or 10 exposures. Each image is properly exposed (as though it were going to be a regular photo). I take the selected number of photos in succession, then the camera blends the images together and saves only the final combined image on my memory card.


The impressionistic look is created by moving the camera between (not during) each exposure. For flexibility and ease of camera movement, I shoot them handheld. Even though these multiple-exposure photos have a significant sense of movement, the camera is actually moved very little between shots. So, how do you move it? Well, that’s the fun part. Try moving the camera up and down or rotate the camera. See which effect works best for your subject. The more the camera is moved between exposures, the more abstract the final image. Move the camera less to retain more of the form of the subject. Try the same shot at least a few times, because no two multiple exposures will be the same.


Many Nikon cameras have a multiple exposure function, but not all do, so check your manual. There is also some variation on how many multiple exposures each camera can do. Other camera models may offer multiple exposure functionality, so check your manual to see. If you’re not able to do multiple exposures in camera, they can also be created using Photoshop. You take the photos in the same manner: each one properly exposed, moving the camera between photos. Photoshop is used simply to blend the images together. Because there are a number of steps in this process, I don’t have room to detail them in the book, but you can go to the following page on my website for step-by-step instructions:


If you use filters when photographing with other lenses, don’t forget about them when you put on your Lensbaby. You can use 52 mm filters with the Step-Up/Shade (see Chapter 3,
Accessories section). If you have larger filters, you can try handholding them, but keep them
flush with the front of the lens to avoid light bouncing around between the filter and the
optic. This is easiest to do with the Composer since you don’t have to hold the lens in place.
It’s a lot more difficult with the Muse/2.0/Original because you have to bend and hold the lens
while holding the filter. The rods of the Control Freak/3G may prevent you from placing a filter
right in front of the lens. In this case, cup your hands around the gap between the filter and
the lens to block extraneous light (most easily done with the camera on a tripod).


A polarizer is a big help if you’re photographing outside and you want to darken blue skies. It’ll
have the greatest effect if you’re photographing at 90 degrees to the sun (that is, the sun is directly to your left or right). It’s also useful for reducing or eliminating glare and reflections that can intensify the colors in your image.

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Lensbaby Composer, Double Glass Optic, f/4, Step-Up/Shade: the darkening of the blue sky by the polarizer has better defined the branches, especially in the lower portion, where they aren’t as noticeable in the unpolarized version.


Neutral Density

A neutral density filter is useful if your shutter speed is too fast. Since I often use the f/4 aperture disc, I frequently end up with fast shutter speeds. But what if I want to use a
slower shutter speed to purposely blur a moving subject? I could use a smaller aperture disc, but that would also change the depth of field and the look of my Lensbaby photo. Using a neutral density filter instead allows me to keep the wide aperture and still achieve a slow shutter speed.

Graduated Neutral Density

If you use graduated neutral density filters (grad NDs), you can also handhold them in front
of your Lensbaby. The Lensbaby gives a unique look, but it doesn’t eliminate problems with
capturing a scene with a bright sky and dark foreground. Grad NDs are easiest to use with
the Composer because the lens will stay in place and you can hold the filter flush against the
front of the lens.

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Lensbaby Composer, Single Glass Optic, f/4, Wide-Angle Lens: Using a grad ND to darken the sky and trees balances the brightness of the foreground and background areas.

These are just a few examples of filters you can use. The idea is to experiment with the filters you’ve got, or try new ones! Lensbaby 3G (double glass), f/4, neutral density filter handheld I took this photo with the 3G before the Step-Up/Shade was available. I handheld a neutral density filter to achieve a slower shutter speed that allowed the water to render as a smooth wash of color.

HDR (High Dynamic Range)


When you have a subject or scene with a lot of contrast, it might not be possible to record all
the highlight and shadow detail in one image. Either the brightest parts of the image look
good or the darkest parts do, depending on the exposure for the photo. In some cases you could use the graduated neutral density filters mentioned in the previous section. However, when the brightest and darkest areas are not neatly separated into sky and land, a grad ND won’t get the job done. Creating a high dynamic range (HDR) image is the solution to capture the entire dynamic range of the photo. You’ll want to shoot a series of bracketed exposures, then combine them to create the HDR photo. The exposures recorded in the bracketed set should be broad enough so that the darkest exposure retained all the captured all the shadow detail. Generally speaking, an exposure range of five stops will often achieve this look. Depending on the bracketing options for your camera, you can do this with five exposures set one stop apart or three exposures taken two stops apart.


As the sun was setting, the trees above me were in the shade, with a bright blue sky behind them and the last light of the day illuminating the trees up the hill. HDR made it possible to retain good detail in all areas.

If something in your photo moves between exposures, it can create a problem when the exposures are combined. Lensbaby HDR gives you a little “wiggle room” if there is movement, so long as it’s not in the sweet spot. If something moves that’s out of focus, it’s less likely to create a problem in the final HDR image, or it’s one that can be
more easily fixed. I use the software Photomatix Pro to combine my exposures into an HDR image, then fine-tune the image using Photoshop. This section is not intended to be a detailed
tutorial about HDR photography but rather a suggestion of a technique that can be used with
Lensbaby photos as well as your other photography. If you’d like to learn more about HDR, I’d
recommend picking up a book devoted to HDR or looking online for tutorials. I’ve found that HDR works just as well with Lensbaby photos as it does with regular photos. If you’re already shooting HDR images, the process is exactly the same.

Black and White

Try out your photos in black and white! If you find that you primarily photograph in color, try
some B&W with your Lensbaby. The simplest way to capture a black-and-white image is to
set your camera to shoot in a Grayscale mode. Although this makes things easy, it doesn’t give you much control over the color- to-black-and-white conversion. I prefer to capture the image in color, then convert it using software. Converting photos yourself gives you more options and control, which leads to higher-quality black-and-white images. Applications such as Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, and Aperture have the ability to do black-and white conversions. If you’d like more conversion options than these programs offer on their
own, try a plug-in such as Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro. Consider how you view the color and B&W versions of this photo. In the color version, the blue of the bicycles and the red/orange of the ground command a lot of attention. When the photo is in B&W, the viewer pays more attention to the pattern of the bicycles and their shadows.

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What’s Really B&W and What’s Color?

If you selected just the Raw format, all that is actually black and white is the JPEG thumbnail, which is what you see when you play back your photos. If you are shooting Raw+JPEG, the JPEG file on your memory card is black and white.

© John Barclay (, Lensbaby Composer, Double Glass Optic, f/5.6, Super Wide Angle Lens: Forest Haven is an abandoned Asylum in Maryland where horrific things were done to the patients, leading to its closing. This scene screamed to be shot with the Lensbaby, which I felt added to the feeling of the building’s decay and haunted past. Being in a small room made using the Super Wide
Angle lens critical, allowing me to include all the necessary elements in the scene.

© Luca Lacche (, Lensbaby Composer, Plastic Optic, f/4: The subject is a rather common view in our old historical towns. As usual in my experience, I don’t ever “plan” a photo; on the contrary, I try not to think much when shooting. I prefer to let the eye and the mind run free and let instinct take care of the composition. The atmosphere and mood of the place are the key for choosing that certain subject at that particular moment and seeing it in that particular way using that particular angle. Elaboration comes “after,” in raw processing; that’s when I set the light, format, etc. Then in CS2 I add the final details such as film grain and tone. In any case I remain close to the basic concept of photography; in fact, I intend my workflow as the digital version of the traditional darkroom, and I think full-frame D-SLRs are taking us very close to the film world.

If you’re more comfortable with color photography, one of the challenges of photographing for black and white is “seeing” in black and white. You might like to see the image in black and white right when you shoot it. For this reason, the in-camera Grayscale option can be appealing. Luckily, there is a way you can get the best of both worlds: Use the Grayscale mode, yet still convert the image to black and white yourself. All you need to do is use an Image Quality setting of Raw or Raw+JPEG (in addition to setting your camera to Grayscale). The key to this trick is recording a Raw file, because Raw files still keep the color information, even if you are in the Grayscale mode. Now when you take a photo, the image on your LCD screen will be black and white, but when you view the Raw file on your computer it will be in color. Pretty neat! You’ll then use the Raw file for your black-and-white conversion. To see more B&W photos, check out the portfolios in this book, which contain a variety of examples.



When available light isn’t enough or isn’t quite what you’re looking for, throw in some
flash with your Lensbaby. In addition to using your flash as your primary light source, try
using it as fill light. Reduce the power of the flash, to have it supplement the available
light. Try out your flash with your Lensbaby before you need it. With some cameras the flash won’t fire in the default mode (called TTL), because the camera cannot communicate
with the Lensbaby. If this happens, try changing the flash mode to manual. This is true for both built-in (pop-up) flash and external flash units. When the flash is in manual mode, you have to choose the power of the flash (in TTL, the camera sets the flash power). You’ll probably need to take some test shots at different power levels to determine the correct amount.


Lensbaby makes versions of the Muse and the 3G that are designed to work with motionpicture cameras. That’s pretty cool for filmmakers, but you don’t have to have your own
movie camera to create Lensbaby videos. High-definition video has become a more common
feature on SLR cameras. If your camera can record video, give it a try using your Lensbaby.
Just as the Lensbaby gives a unique look to your photos, it can do the same for video.

If you’ve ever wished you could learn about all of the creative possibilities the Lensbaby offers, this is the book for you! Seeing subjects with a new perspective is at the heart of the Lensbaby experience, and with the essential information found in this book, you’ll be able to take your creative exploration to the next level. Written by Lensbaby Guru Corey Hilz, Lensbaby: Bending Your Perspective starts off with an overview of each lens in the Lensbaby suite. Then comes the fun stuff! Packed with tips on composition and techniques for capturing your best images, you’ll be immersed in the wonderful world of Lensbaby in no time. On nearly every page you’ll find a full color image created by a Lensbaby expert to inspire your own shooting. You’ll also find complete coverage of all of the Lensbaby accessories, from the Optic Swap System to a macro kit, creative aperture discs, and a super wide angle lens. With this gorgeous and practical book by your side, you’ll never see the world in the same way again.

Text ©2010 Corey Hilz. Book excerpt courtesy of Focal Press.

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