If you’re like me, you’re always looking for something different. New angles, new lighting, new techniques, new gear and new perspectives.
I had been wanting to experiment with the sorts of blurring effects some tilt-shift lenses could offer for years now, as I had seen very few examples of this in night photography. When I found that Lensbaby had an Edge 35 Optic lens for my Pentax K-1, I couldn’t say no.
Lensbaby lenses are a little unusual in their approach. The Edge 35 Optic lens, as it turns out, does not mount directly to your camera. You must purchase a Lensbaby Composer Pro II or an earlier type of housing. The housing mounts to your camera. Then, in turn, you snap the Edge 35 Optic to the Composer Pro II.
There’s a reason for this. The Composer Pro II bends. Therefore, you may bend whatever lens is attached every which way. The purpose of this is to shift the plane of focus and depth of field, which depends on the direction and amount you tilt the lens.
Edge 35 Optic
As the name implies, the lens is 35mm. I wanted to purchase one of the widest lenses Lensbaby had, and this was it. It’s not as wide of a lens as I usually use, but is still wide enough.
I did find that I had to back off my subjects quite a bit more than usual. The lens is f/3.5-f/22 and can be used on APS-C as well as full frame. You should know that it is completely manual, as you would not be able to focus given the tilting that it does anyway. However, the aperture is also manual, and will not be electronically communicated to your camera.
You may use the Edge 35 Optic as a “normal” lens, meaning that it has a flat field of focus everywhere in the frame, if that’s what you want. But of course, that’s not why we purchase this lens, is it? After all, the fun lies in tilting the plane of focus.
As with any tilt-shift style lens, which this approximates, the blur effect depends on the amount of tilt. But it is also affected by the aperture. Wider apertures such as f/3.5 create a narrower area of focus surrounded by a larger amount of blurring. Smaller apertures create a wider area of focus surrounded by less blurring.
If this sounds confusing, in practice, it’s surprisingly intuitive. The slice of focus is easily controlled physically, and you can see the effect immediately. Well, if you have enough light, anyway. Since I was photographing at night, I aimed my headlamp at the subject nearby and was able to dial in the effect easily.
Experimenting is fun. That’s basically the motto of Lensbaby products.
Finding the ring
I found that the only thing that I really had to get used to was finding the aperture ring. As mentioned before, you control the aperture manually. Easily done. And the effect on the slice of focus is not subtle. You can see the slice of focus continue growing, with more and more becoming as focus as you shift from f/3.5 to the much smaller f/22.
Remember, I was figuring all this out in the dark, which speaks to how intuitive this is.
My first image with the lens in the field
My first use with the Lensbaby Composer II and Edge 35 Optic was in a really out-of-the-way place in the Sonoran Desert. The moon had not yet risen, so I decided to begin photographing inside a building where rare vintage trucks and automobiles were being restored.
I lined up the first truck, a red 1920s Commerce flatbed truck. Commerce manufactured 1500 trucks in a span of three to four years. Not many are left. Because I was working in the dark, I took great caution when moving around it.
The lens was surprisingly sharp when I positioned it with a flat-focus view. I likely have a sharper lens than this, but again, that’s not what this lens is for. I created a Dutch angle with the ball head, then bent the lens to create a slice going across the Commerce logo in the front. This took no time at all, and I could see the effect readily despite the dim light of the headlamp.
Illuminating the Commerce truck
Using a ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device, I grazed a warm white light across the front of the Commerce truck to create shadow and depth. I then switched the ProtoMachines to blue light and illuminated the interior of the truck. I positioned it to create a shadow of the steering wheel while in the window for good measure. The exposure is only 29 seconds long, as it was not necessary to go any longer since the sole illumination was from my lighting.
The tilt-shift creates an almost toylike quality. This is due to the miniaturization effect. The effect is even more pronounced because I chose bold colors for the composition. I was quite happy with this first attempt.
My second image in the field
My second attempt using the lens in the field was inside the same building, this time with a Gotfredson Model 20B stake bed truck from the 1920s, another extremely rare vintage vehicle. I decided to forego the Dutch angle this time.
Once again using the dim headlamp, I focused on the emblem. This time, I used a slightly smaller aperture, probably f/5.6 instead of f/3.5. I say “probably” because the lens is completely manual and does not communicate its settings or anything else electronically with the camera. The smaller aperture created a wider slice of focus.
Adjusting the blur
I also angled the slice of focus so it would rise as it was going to the right-hand side to get the horn on the driver’s side of the vehicle more in focus. If you look at the blur, you can tell that the left side, especially at the top, is considerably more out of focus than the upper right. One has a lot of control over the blur effect. Again, I found it intuitive.
Illuminating the Gotfredson truck
I approached the lighting in a similar manner. I illuminated the front of the truck with warm white light from the left side of the camera as I did with the Commerce truck, skimming the light to create shadow and depth from the emblem. Then I then walked around and illuminated the interior with a blue light. This time, there was not any glass in front of the steering wheel, so I couldn’t get the shadow as I did with the Commerce truck.
Illuminating a GMC truck
I lit this in a similar manner to the Gotfredson truck but was able to get the shadow of the steering wheel.
Inspiring experimentation with Lensbaby lenses
I hope that this article inspires you to experiment with Lensbaby, tilt-shift lenses, or any other sort of lens that creates different effects. Please share what sort of experimentations you have attempted in the comments below!