I’ve been freelensing since 2015, so I often forget that it’s still not a well-known craft. I find myself talking about it casually with friends and fellow photographers, only to stop short when I notice their blank stares.

But freelensing has changed my photography so much since I first learned about it from another photographer, so I feel a strong desire to spread the word. Freelensing rocks, and EVERYONE should give it a try at least once.

Assuming you’re in for the risk…

So what is freelensing?

Freelensing is detaching the lens from your camera and focusing by moving it up, right, left, down, or closer to your subject. This requires some knowledge in manual exposure and likely, if you’re using film, an external meter.

Don’t worry, the “grit” on this picture isn’t from my sensor. It’s from caffenol. Yet another awesome invention.

Did you say there’s a risk?

For digital cameras, yes. Freelensing can–and probably will–allow dust into your camera, which can then collect on your sensor. If you decide to chance this, keep the lens as close to the camera body as you can while focusing.

How do I freelens?

What you’ll need:

  • An SLR (film or digital) that allows you to take pictures without the lens.
  • A prime lens. Some say 50mm is great, others like the 75mm. For my digital I love my 40mm macro, and have also gotten some great ones with my 35mm. It’s all personal preference. You can even buy a used vintage lens offline and use that.
  • An external meter, if you need it. My Pentax K1000 has a meter, so I can meter first and then detach the lens, but I know not all film SLRs are like this.
  • A subject. Any subject.

Steps:

  1. Find your subject.
  2. Aim your camera and use your meter(s) to adjust the settings manually for the widest aperture on your lens (most cameras will not work without the lens unless it’s on manual mode, so keep this in mind).
  3. Detach the lens (NOTE: If you’re using digital, turn off your camera before detaching the lens, then turn it back on once you’ve detached it. I hear it can mess things up if you leave the camera on. I’m lazy and often leave my camera on, and it hasn’t blown up, but do as I say and not as I do).
  4. Make sure your lens aperture is open as wide as it will go (Nikon users will have to rig it open unless they have a manual lens) and make sure your lens focus is set to infinity.
  5. Keeping the lens as close as you can to the camera body, move it left, right, up, down, to obtain the focus you want.
  6. Take the picture.

How do I edit/develop a freelensed image?

However you like! It’s your art.

Freelensing has really opened my eyes to a lot of new things. Now I see tiny details I would have otherwise overlooked, little white flowers in the shade, or a single bead of water on a spiderweb, and I love an accidental light leak. Best of all, the images have a beautiful, dreamy quality I always tried–and failed–to achieve in edits.

And, if the risk is too high for you, you can always grab a Lensbaby. The look isn’t quite the same, but your camera–and your sensor–will thank you.

Want to see more? Check out this video I created to show what the world looks like when you’re freelensing.

Have you given freelensing a try? Feel free to share links and/or images in the comments below!

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