Feature photo by Anna Rasmussen

For me, freelensing is about the feeling and the creativity of playing with both light and blurriness to achieve a certain level of magic. My first attempts at freelensing were nothing more than lucky shots and a lot of frustration, so I soon gave up. Then I started playing with some of the creative lenses on the market attached to my camera, and something clicked. I gave freelensing another try; I’ve been addicted ever since.

Here are some things to remember as you try freelensing for the first time:

1. Camera settings

With the lens still attached to the camera, set the aperture to the widest possible and adjust the shutter speed and ISO settings for the correct exposure; once the lens is detached, you’ll need to make some adjustments to the settings.

Note: Do a search on the particular lens you’re using and how to keep your aperture open when it’s detached. With Canon, the aperture stays wide open, so no need to do anything further. With Nikon, if its an automatic lens (series G) you have to manually modify the lens to keep the aperture open. With manual Nikon lenses, though, you have the control of the aperture in the lens.

Freelensing image of greenery
Photo by Shannon Douglas

2. Focal distance

Turn the focal distance dial of the lens all the way to the infinity symbol; this sets your focal distance to the farthest possible. Detach the lens and keep it as close as possible to the ring. Start tilting the lens slowly and slightly in different directions, changing the plane of focus until you start to see the magic.

Freelensing image of woman
Photo by Lauren Webster
Freelensed image of baby
Photo by Jessica Meyers
Photo by Dewi Koomen

“They say that in freelensing there are no rules, but one thing that can make all the difference to your image is focus.”

Freelensing image of woman in bedroom
Photo by Jessica Meyers

3. Focus

They say in freelensing there are no rules, but one thing that can make all the difference to your image is focus. True, an image can be completely out of focus and still be beautiful, and in fact, I’m a big fan. But the effect has to be intentional, and you still have to consider such aspects as light, composition and color.

I prefer to get one area of the frame in focus, so for me it’s important to decide where the focus should be, as that can completely change the mood of the image. Landing focus in freelensing is hard enough, and landing it on a specific area is even harder and requires patience: One thing’s for sure, freelensing can’t be rushed.

Play with the focal distance of the lens to help you determine that focal area. Also try moving yourself in and out of the scene until you’re happy with what you see. As you do, ask yourself: What am I trying to say? What mood do I want to evoke? Does that mood help coney my message? Will it keep the viewer engaged?

Freelensed image of yellow flower
Photo by Cathy Kuhlman

4. Light

Freelensing can lead to all kinds of interesting images, but it’s the element of light that makes them work. It can add flares and light leaks to the frame, and infuse the image with an extra-magical effect. For that, it’s better to work with good back light; to me, the ideal time to get it is during golden hour, when the sun is straight on but slightly softer than other times of day.

Freelensing image of boy in woods
Photo by Amber Talbert

5. Light leaks

As you tilt the lens, bits of the surrounding light begin to spill onto the sensor through the gap between lens and camera. It’s important to control where the light lands in the frame (with the direction of the tilt), and amount of the light entering the frame (by adjusting the size of the gap). Too much of it can overpower and ruin the image.

Photo by Lucy Ketchum
Freelensing image of tulips
Photo by Lucy Ketchum
Freelensing image of purple clovers
Photo by Lucy Ketchum

6. Flare

I love flare, and I often look for it through my viewfinder. The many forms flare can take include arches, orbs, or rays. You’ll begin to get flares as you tilt the lens toward the light. Flare, too, can overpower the image, so I usually try to keep it off my main subject by moving myself a bit until the flare falls to the sides of the frame.

“Freelensing can lead to all kinds of interesting images, but it’s the element of light that makes them work.”

7. Conjuring the magic

If freelensing alone isn’t satisfying your creativity, try using your usual ingenious elements in the frame, such as a copper pipe or a prism. I like to spray water onto flowers for extra bokeh (looks like fairy dust!). Fine, you say, how does one hold all of this at the same time? Use the timer! Hold the camera and lens in one hand, while the other brandishes the enchantment.

Freelensing image of child in woods
Photo by Cynthia Dawson
How to freelens with your dslr camera
Photo by Holly Awwad

Lucy’s favorite freelensing gear:

Camera: Nikon D800 SLR

Lens: AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D manual lens

This story originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of Click Magazine. Buy your copy here, or subscribe so you never miss an issue.