When we asked Kathleen about one element of her photography that was a game changer in her career, she unequivocally said it was the moment she placed her hands on her Lensbaby Velvet 56.
Kathleen Clemons has been photographing with Lensbaby for almost 10 years. She first learned about Lensbaby from a photography workshop on November 2006, when she came across another photographer's Lensbaby work. She went straight home and ordered the Lensbaby 2.0, a small lens on a bellows that delivered a sweet spot of focus surrounded by blur. “I still remember the first photos I shot, they were of a dried Hydrangea plant in my yard,” Clemons reminisced. “I fell in love with the lens the first day I attached it to my camera. Those first photos were not perfect, but I knew there was potential there for a whole new world of image creation. I had always been drawn to selective focus photography, and the Lensbaby allowed me to explore that even more.”
The following are five suggestions that Kathleen would like to share with the readers of Landscape Photography Magazine who might be interested in the world of flower photography.
The Learning Curve
There is a learning curve to any new lens and Lensbaby lenses are no exception. My students often have difficulty getting a sharp sweet spot of focus in the beginning. Deciding where to place that sweet spot and how much needs to be in focus can also be challenging when you are just starting to use selective focus.
Take your time and find a quiet place where you won’t be rushed. You need to be in a place where you allow yourself the room for trial and error without getting frustrated. Relax, take some deep breaths and remember that all great art is created through exploration.
Use A Tripod
Using a tripod can help with focus difficulties as it eliminates any camera movement. It also makes you slow down, look at the subject and decide what you want to draw attention to, and how much blur you want as well.
I would highly recommend using a tripod as you get started. This stability will give you the margin to really look at your composition, step back and assess without worrying about shaking or recreating something you like. You will also have your hands free for adjustments that need to be made.
Practice Makes Perfect
The other thing that helps is keeping the Lensbaby on your camera, and shooting lots and lots of photos – the more you use a Lensbaby, the easier it gets! Take it outside, have some fun with it, and be committed to setting aside time to get to know the lens. It’s amazing how each lens has a different personality and character. Like all great relationships, the more time you invest in becoming acquainted, the greater the rewards of relationship will be reaped.
Don’t expect miracles instantly, it’s going to take time to learn. People tell me that they want to be Kathleen Clemons immediately, and I tell them that I wasn’t even Kathleen Clemons in the beginning. An instant fix doesn’t happen. There is no secret recipe, it doesn’t exist.
Picking Your First Lensbaby
Which Lensbaby is best for you? Well, do you enjoy more ethereal and dreamy photos or are you looking for a sharp area in focus surrounded by blur? I encourage you to really look at your subject and decide which effect best suits it. Both the Sweet 50 (which I mentioned in previous article) and the Velvet 56 have different effects.
The Sweet 50 is a selective focus optic, which will provide an area of tack sharp focus surrounded by blur and distortion which is created by the tilt/bend. If I’m going for a tack sharp area in focus or I want a flower to look like it’s dancing, then I use the Sweet 50. The Velvet 56 has an ethereal glow with a beautiful soft look to it. So, if I want a more dreamy feel I use the Velvet 56. You won’t have the sharp area of focus, but the look is very beautiful and well suited to flowers.
I have done quite a bit of beta testing for Lensbaby, but nothing prepared me for the reaction I had to my first Velvet 56 photos. After taking the lens out of the box and making a few photos, I stopped to look at the images on my camera’s LCD, felt a wave of emotion and started to cry. The feeling was so strong, the images I was seeing appeared just the way I felt about and saw my subjects. To be able to capture exactly what I saw right in camera with this new lens was a very powerful moment for me, a feeling of coming home to the images I wanted to create. I also knew right then that my best work was ahead of me, also a strong, wonderful feeling.
I find the Velvet 56 to be a very versatile lens, allowing me to create soft and dreamy images, or stop down to a smaller aperture for more definition, but keeping just a bit of that soft, velvety look. As a flower photographer, I appreciate the fact that I can get 5 inches away from my subjects.
The Velvet 56 conveys through the camera exactly how I see things. I love that it so organically conveys my vision without requiring Photoshop. It’s the purest way that I can share my vision on how I see the world.
Picking the right subject
My biggest piece of advice is to choose a flower in pristine condition because macro magnifies every flaw. I suggest that Lensbaby is able to hide some flaws with the blur, but you will need to pay special attention to the quality of the flower which you intend to have in focus. I also like to photograph aged flowers. This can be a beautiful moment for a flower and a great opportunity for you to photograph it because the ageing process adds curves and saturation to the flower.
I tend to grow what I like to photograph, and I have a botanical garden that I like to photograph at here in Maine, USA. I usually prefer to buy potted plants rather than cut flowers. This allows me to be able to move them around the yard to get the best light on them. I can also select and have more control over the background. Once I have finished photographing them, I enjoy planting them in my garden or giving them away as a gift!
Also, don’t be limited to flowers – photograph ferns, leaves, trees, feathers, shells, or just step outside your door and look around in nature, you never know what will catch your eye.
Whether it's macro, portraiture or nature, I always look to incorporate a Lensbaby lens. I truly believe that it lets me show the world the way that I see it.