Photography Tips and Advice

A Simple Guide Freelensing For Any DSLR User

Sometimes I feel like I’m ahead of the game, but with freelensing I’m definitely late to the party. Of course, I’d known about the technique for quite some time, but I’d never really gotten around to trying it. Now that I know how simple it is I feel silly that I never tried it before, but oh well, no point in that.

What Is Freelensing?

Essentially freelensing is using your DSLR without properly attaching the lens to the camera body. It’s sometimes referred to as the ‘poor man’s tilt-shift’ because the resulting effect is very similar to that gained from a very expensive tilt shift lens. The effect is particularly stunning in portraiture, if you get it right.

So, Can I Do It?

If you’ve got a DSLR and a prime lens, preferably with a focal length of between 35-85mm, you can definitely try freelensing. The best effects come from lenses that allow for a wider aperture so more light can be captured, and a hard infinity-focus stop so you can compose as needed depending on what you want in focus. Some tutorials online show photographers actually taking apart prime lenses in order to create a lens specifically for freelensing, and in some cases (I think some Nikon lenses have to be manually held open) this might be true. If this is the case, you might consider purchasing a broken lens online, where they’re often sold for parts. However, if you have a lens that does not stop down when removed, or for most Canon lenses, there’s no need to take apart a lens. Instead, just read on.

But First, The Risks

I decided to put this here instead of at the bottom, because god knows I rarely scroll all the way down there. Before you start freelensing, you should understand the inherent risks associated with doing it. Obviously DSLR cameras are supposed to be used with the lens firmly attached to the camera. Choosing not to do this does risk exposing your sensor to the outside elements. Be mindful of the setting in which you are shooting, and beware of dust and moisture. Never keep your lens off for longer than needed, and make sure you have a cleaning kit on hand.

A Step-By-Step Guide To Freelensing

  1. Set your camera to manual. If you’ve never shot in manual before, I’d suggest reading up on that first because it’s not generally something you can stumble in to. Before detaching the lens, set all the relevant settings to suit your environment i.e. ISO, shutter speed etc. You can’t set aperture, because the lens will be off the body.
  2. Set the lens to manual focus and open it up to infinity.
  3. Detach the lens, and get comfy with the way you’re holding it. I usually have one hand holding the lens, cupped like a C, and one hand holding the body.
  4. Viewing either through the viewfinder or on Live View, experiment moving the lens around from side to side, noting how the area in focus changes. If you’re nervous, choose a subject that is stationary or something that you can shoot sitting down.
  5. That’s it! You can experiment further with freelensing by moving the lens around more, allowing more light to enter by opening up one side over another, or letting light in from the top or bottom.

It’s pretty easy right? Who knows why it took me so long to try it, but I’m glad that I did and that I’ve added freelensing to my list of photography skills!

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