I love it when my camera surprises me.
Recently, I started “free lensing.” Sounds questionable, I know, but stick with me for a second. Take your lens. Remove it from the camera. Hold it in front of where it mounts. Tilt it a bit this way or that. Press the shutter. See what happens.
That’s free lensing.
I didn’t invent the technique. Basically, it replicates the effect of a specialty lens called a Tilt-Shift. Except with free lensing, you don’t really have much precision or control. You’re shooting with luck and hope. You get very small areas of focus and a ton of dreamy blur. Nailing razor sharp focus isn’t the point. If that’s what you want, you shouldn’t free lens.
Free lensing is completely organic. No matter how hard you try, nothing you do can be replicated. The smallest movement of the hand holding the lens completely changes the character of the image.
There’s danger, too. Holding a camera with one hand and a loose lens with the other is tricky at best. Grow a third hand if you can. If you can’t, do your best. A tripod might help.
Images taken by free lensing are full of beautiful errors. Focus is more miss than hit. It’s not uncommon to accidentally move the lens too far and catch the edges of the lens as a dark shadow along your image. Light leaks into the gap between the lens and the body and over exposes everything or, if you’re lucky, creates ghosts and apparitions.
Free lensing requires a lot of luck. It gives you a lot of really bad shots.
But most importantly, free lensing is a blast.
Normally, I know what I’m going to get when I press the shutter. I control the exposure, the aperture, the shutter speed, and I can create exactly the image I’m after. Most of the time, this is a good thing. This is what I get paid for.
But all work and no play…
With free lensing, every image is a surprise. Fantastic images are an accident and that makes them amazing. It’s good to sometimes get away from the obsession over the technical qualities of an image. Photographers, myself included, often obsess over details like the sharpness of an image. We “pixel peep” and zoom in to examine images on a microscopic level. We’re seeking flaws. If we’re not careful, we reject otherwise good images because on one technical level they aren’t perfect.
Free lensing is liberating. It frees you from the obsession over technical perfection. It lets you have fun. It lets you create art. It lets you be imperfect.
It reminds me of the thing I love most about photography: Having fun.