In the first chapter of The Soul of a Pilgrim, Christine Valters Paintner recommends that the pilgrim travel light. I’m not sure you’d call a walk through Dreher Island State Park a pilgrimage, per se, but I tend to travel light when I do walk through the park. Today was no exception. My only “baggage” was my Canon 7D with the battery grip and the very lightweight Lensbaby Composer Pro with the Sweet 35 optic installed. I did carry my cell phone and car keys as well. No camera bags, no other lenses. Just those items.
One of the challenges I give myself when I walk with the camera is to limit my gear to what I can carry on the camera and/or in my pockets. There’s a reason for that, really. I have to figure out other ways to get the images I want. With a zoom lens, I can stand at a distance and use the lens to capture the image, but with a fixed, or prime, lens, I have to move. I have to step closer or farther away. I have to change my position physically rather than rely on the camera and lens to do the work for me. The results can be better as a result.
The Lensbaby optics add still another challenge. The Lensbaby is fully manual—manual focus, manual settings. And it’s a soft-focus lens as well as a tilting lens. The sweet spot of focus is not necessarily in the dead center of the lens. It takes a bit of practice to get acceptable results from the Lensbaby system. I deleted quite a few images before I was satisfied.
One of the things I especially enjoy about the Lensbaby system is that it sometimes yields results I didn’t quite expect. By shifting the lens to the extremes, the results can be abstract. At least the results are not quite realistic.
The credit card commercial asks, “What’s in your wallet?” I’m asking today, “What’s in your kit?”
No matter what the experts say, I think photographers have love affairs with camera equipment. I have a moratorium on my equipment purchases, so I have to work on learning to make the most of the equipment I have. And it is limited. I use my kit lens, the 28-135. I have another zoom that takes me to 200, a 50, and two optics with the Lensbaby Composer Pro—the Sweet 35 and the double optic.
This morning I went out with the double optic and the Composer Pro. I used the 5.6 aperture ring and set the camera for manual mode. Of course, with any Lensbaby, I used manual focus.
Lesson #1: sometimes moving physically is the only way to get the subject in sharp focus (or sharp for a Lensbaby since it is inherently a soft-focus lens). This is especially important when using the macro kit with the double optic.
Lesson #2—After using autofocus for sooooo long, manual focus can be hard. It feels as though I am learning to see all over again. Or else it feels like I’m not wearing my glasses or contacts. Nailing the focus is difficult, really. I found it hard to keep my focal point in focus with the Lensbaby when I tried to reframe the shot.
Lesson #3—The Lensbaby is worth it, and I need to work with it more often. While I like it a lot for macro work, I struggle with it for landscape shots. That’s where the practice comes in, I think. It is about learning where the lens’s sweet spot of focus is, learning how to tilt the lens to get pleasing composition and the famous Lensbaby blur. Some of my images today just didn’t work.
I think perhaps if I could have gotten lower, this might have worked better. Sigh . , , ,
This past week was beautiful for the most part. We had a few thunderstorms and some much needed rain, but Saturday was typical South Carolina summer—hot and humid. I went out with the camera for a few minutes to walk around the back yard and to check out the secret garden that is so secret, it doesn’t know it’s a garden. I am not the one with the green thumb here. Most of my “garden” is in planters—one red-orange hibiscus, some white and purple verbena, dianthus, and lavender (which is not blooming yet). Over in the other garden, I have sown a variety of wildflowers, but they have not matured enough to bloom yet.
The last few times I’ve gone out to ramble with the camera, I’ve taken very little gear with me. I choose a lens before I go out. This time, I chose the Lensbaby double optic with the Composer Pro. I took the macro filters with me to use—if the spirit moved me. And it did for a few images, but not many. One of the things I like about the Lensbaby double optic is that it is like shooting with an 85mm lens. It is a 50mm lens on a full-frame camera, but my Canon 7D is a crop sensor. I almost get the effect of a macro lens without the filters. The two filters are 4mm and 10mm each. I think I mainly used the 10mm.
Here are a few of the images:
I have been playing around with the Topaz Labs plugins for Photoshop. I especially like Simplify because I an achieve some painterly effects, as I did on these first two images. The old barn is on my father’s-in-law property. I have been photographing this old barn for a while now, and each time I get a different effect. for this image, I chose to use a watercolor effect. It needs a bit a tweaking yet, but I like of like it. (I even cloned out a building on the right side of the image so that barn would be the star.
I love the texture of hibiscus. You can see the veins in each petal.
I tried to create a vintage look for this rose, but as I wrote last week, red is a difficult color for me to photograph well and to process well. I think I may tweak this image more and use the Topaz Labs BW Effects. I love the Opalotype effects. I think that would give the image a vintage look. What do you think?
Even though I walk around the back yard and the ponds frequently, I always see something different, something new. That’s what I love so much about contemplative photographic practices: it’s all about seeing the world through eyes that are wide-open, receptive to possibility.
I am back (I hope). It seems that “inspiration” is seasonal at times. It’s hard for me to sustain the inspiration to write, and so I let it flounder. The same is true of my photography and photo editing as well. When I am inspired, there is no limit to what I can create, but when the well is dry, I experience true famine. Lately, that famine has been quenched by a return to needle arts, mainly knitting and crocheting. The projects I have going are easy to pick up and work on in the evenings as well as to carry with me when I need something to do to “kill time” between classes or as I ride in the car.
And then there are the books. . . . I have read more in the last months than I have in a long time. Some of those historical romances should be called “hysterical” romances because they are either so poorly written that they are laughable or because they are humorous. Of course, Saturday night, I think I cried during the last fifty pages of a book, and yes, it did have a “happily ever after” ending.
I have some new camera gear, a few accessories for my Lensbaby kit. I have the Lensbaby Sweet 35 optic and the double-glass optic with the Composer Pro. I added the wide-angle and telephoto attachments as well as a macro attachment to the kit. I think I am set for now. I still love the Lensbaby soft-focus look. I keep telling people that you will never, ever get ultra sharp photos from a Lensbaby, but what you do get is something rather dreamy. Last week I went out with the macro kit and made a few images. These are relatively unedited, just a few basic adjustments in Lightroom.
I love the texture of the hibiscus bud as well as the color. The rhododendron has finished its annual bloom, and these are the last of the flowers. I’m not sure what that pink flower is! I think it is dianthus.
I’m learning that with the Lensbaby, finding that “sweet spot” of focus and finding the optimal exposure settings is crucial. Post processing can improve a photograph, but with the Lensbaby, if it’s bad SOOC, post-processing will not help. Lensbabies just take practice and more practice.
I am teaching for the next three weeks, so my photography time is limited. I hope that we will have beautiful days so that I can explore some of the public gardens in Columbia.