Product Spotlight: Lensbaby Part I

January 31st, 2013

Lensbaby Composer Pro with Sweet Optic 35 by Laura Tillinghast

LensBaby’s selective focus lenses have piqued my interest for sometime now. Back in college, when I was still shooting with film, I experimented a lot with different blurring techniques. To get a blurred effect I tried Vaseline on filters, using panty hose over my lenses, watercolor paints on panels of glass; you name it! These days getting that effect is a lot easier and less messy with LensBaby specialty lenses.

I first tried LensBaby lenses back in 2005 and to be honest it was difficult to manipulate the lens to get the effect I wanted. I tried a new and improved version in 2009 but I still struggled with adjusting the lenses. With the newest generation of LensBaby lenses I can confidently say that I am very happy with the results. The newer versions available now are very easy to adjust and getting the aperture and focus dialed in is much simpler. Yay for technological advances!

The lenses I am working with in this review are from the Pro Effects Kit. In this first part of the review I worked with the Composer Pro using the Sweet Optic 35. Part 2 of my product spotlight will be available in the next few weeks and will cover the other parts of the kit, the Edge 80 Optic and Macro Converters.

When considering what I wanted to try with these lenses I decided to use them on a regular shoot that I would do for a fashion or beauty client. Over the years I have seen LensBaby lenses used for images of flowers, still life, food, etc. Many photographers use these lenses for portraits as well but I wanted to see how they would hold up for the types of things I shoot on a regular basis, fashion and beauty.

My creative team and I decided to shoot a series of B&W images with classic Hollywood style lighting that featured period make-up and hair paired with modern jewelry to add some sparkle. I was lucky to have the talented Elizabeth Chang executing hair and makeup on the lovely model Maria. Tina Case was also on hand to help out and take a few behind the scenes images. Thank you to a great team!

Hollywood lighting features a strong spotlight as the key light with softer accent lights behind the model and to the sides to illuminate the hair and fill in some of the shadow areas. I usually use a reflector below the model’s face but in this case it was not needed.

For this series of images I chose to use the Composer Pro with the Sweet 35 Optic so that I could keep Maria’s face and eyes in focus while allowing her hair and the jewelry to fall out of focus into a lovely blur.  It was easy to bend the lens to create an area of focus and control what parts of the image were blurred. I took my time and made sure to check my test shots to confirm the exact area of focus I was getting. I loved the effect of the jewelry blurring into a soft sparkle and focused on making sure that as Maria moved, I always got her eyes to be within focus.

As I was shooting it was easy to adjust the lens to get the area of focus, or “sweet spot” to be where I wanted it but I did have trouble getting the sweet spot to be tack sharp. When using a spotlight effect for the key light I like to have most of the studio’s ambient light removed so that I can see exactly where my shadows are falling. This made it difficult to manually focus the lens and I often second-guessed myself. Admittedly I do wear glasses and my eyesight is not perfect so an addition of a focusing grid within the lens would be a huge help for me.

For the last shot of the day we wanted to put the focus on the earrings Maria was wearing so Liz quickly put Maria’s hair up and I adjusted the sweet spot to keep the earrings mostly in focus while still getting the soft focus effect on the hair clip. The movement of the dangling earrings was a challenge to keep within the sweet spot. The next time I use this lens with a moving accessory I plan to slow down a bit and make sure I have the focus nailed.

Overall I really enjoyed the ease of use with the Composer Pro and I do think I will be using this lens for fashion and beauty images in the future. There are many occasions when selective focus can bring some mystery and needed creativity to an image.

In Part 2 of this Product Spotlight I will be working with the Edge 80 Optic and the Macro Converters. Stay tuned!