Facebook Pixel The Art of Freelensing for Creative Photography

The Art of Freelensing for Creative Photography

freelensing for creative photography

Photography has a great many rules and every once in a while, it is great to break all of them, don’t you think? For me, the art of freelensing for creative photography is the permission to play with both light and blur to archive a totally unexpected and magical image. 

Freelensing tips
Freelensing works for almost any type of photography, but portraits get extra special love with the soft blur of the out-of-focus elements.

My first attempts at freelensing were just lucky shots among many more frustrated attempts. So, I gave up quickly. But as my photographer friends started posting beautiful dreamy images, I was tempted to pick up my camera and lens and try again.

I gave freelensing another try and I have been addicted ever since. It is a perfect way to get those creative juices flowing and add a little diversity to your photography portfolio and client work. Plus, you don’t really need any extra equipment to purchase or invest in other than what you already have in your camera bag.

What is freelensing?

Freelensing is a technique where the photographer shoots with the lens DETACHED from the camera body, creating a unique shot. With freelensing, you can manipulate your plane of focus to draw the eye of the viewer to a specific area. Alternatively, you can have an entire shot out of focus, creating a very dreamy frame.

It’s a great way to do creative photography play.

Freelensing tips

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

1. Camera settings for freelensing

Before freelensing, you must get your camera settings right. With the lens still attached to the camera, set the aperture to the widest possible value, and adjust the shutter speed and ISO settings for the correct exposure.

You can figure out the widest aperture on your lens by looking at the lens specifics. Once the lens is detached, you can make adjustments to the settings on the camera. For maximum control, use the camera in the manual mode setting where you, the photographer, are adjusting all variables like ISO, shutter speed, and aperture.

Check your camera and lens settings. Some lens will automatically maintain aperture when detached while others won’t. With Canon, the aperture stays wide open, so you don’t need to do anything specific. With a manual lens, you might have to keep the aperture open manually.

Freelensing tips
Using live view can help you find the focus point in your image as you move the lens around. The dark edge on the lower left of the image is part of the lens (the final image is without the lens in the frame).

2. Focal distance for freelensing

Before detaching the lens, turn the focal distance dial of the lens all the way to the infinity symbol. This sets the focal distance to the farthest possible point. Then you can detach the lens and keep it as close as possible to the ring.

Keeping your eye in the viewfinder, start tilting the lens slowly – up, down, left, or right until you see a composition that you like. Remember that by its nature, freelensing is not perfection. You will not find a tack-sharp image with freelensing, but that adds to the magic of creativity with this exercise.

Freelensing for Creative Photography - how to hold the camera and lens

3. Finding focus

The beauty of freelensing for creative photography is that there are no rules. But one thing that can make or break a good creative image is the focus. While a completely out of focus image is still very beautiful, having a focal point in the image adds to the magic. Along with light, composition, and color, focus draws the eye into that element of perfection while the rest is imperfect.

Freelensing for Creative Photography

As you move the lens around, try and get one area of the frame in focus. Landing focus in freelensing is hard, so give yourself some time to get used to it and be patient.

Try multiple frames to find the focus point. Play with the focal distance of the lens to help you determine that focal area. Also, try moving in and out of the scene until you’re happy with what you see.

As you decide on composition and focus point, consider the message, mood, and story you want to convey to the viewer.

Karthika Gupta Freelensing For Creative Photography

4. Light and light leaks

Freelensing for creative photography 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.

It’s better to work with good backlight when capturing light leaks and flares. I find the ideal time is during golden hour, when the sun is straight-on but slightly softer than other times of the day.

As you tilt and separate the lens from the camera, bits of surrounding light can spill into the sensor, adding some cool light-leak effects to the frame.

Play around with the light leaks and see how they affect the frame. You can control the direction and amount of light entering the frame by adjusting the size of the gap. Be aware that too much light can ruin the image too.

Freelensing for Creative Photography. Pink Tulips
Light leaks add an interesting element to freelensing images that sometimes resemble a filter.
Freelensing tips
When outdoors, freelensing can add beautiful sun flares without the use of extra filters and prisms.

Things to note with freelensing for creative photography

  • If you have an expensive lens and camera, try freelensing inside the house on a bed or soft surface as you try to manually hold the camera and lens in your hand. Perhaps that heavy 70-200mm lens is not the one to try freelensing for the first time
  • I always shoot with the camera strap around my neck. That way, if for some reason I lose my grip on my lens and camera, I focus on saving the lens since I know the camera is secure.
  • You can do freelensing with the camera on a tripod but that can limit the range of motion and creativity of the frame. But if you are just starting out, then this is a safer option.
  • I hold the camera around the camera grip with my right hand and manipulate the lens with my left hand. I am right-handed, so this plays well with the strength of my hands.
  • If your camera has live view, use that as you move the lens around to find the perfect frame to your liking. 
  • The distance of the lens from the camera and the distance of the camera and lens from the subject will affect the plane of focus (just like it does in normal photography).
    • When you are closer to the subject, less of the subject will likely be in focus
    • When you are further away from the subject, more of the subject will likely be in focus
    • If you are far away from the subject, put the lens closer to the body of the camera
    • If you are close to the subject, you can get the lens further away from the body
  • As you move the lens away from the camera body, light leaks will enter the frame. Live view will help you find the light leaks that works best for the shot you have in mind.
Freelensing for Creative Photography. Dog
Once you get the hang of it, you will find yourself trying freelensing anywhere and everywhere. The results are so unique that you cannot help but get creative.

The best advice for successful freelensing for creative photography is to leave all the rules behind and photograph with your heart. Find that creativity and let the magic unfold.

We’d love to see your freelensing images! Please share them with us in the comments section.

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Karthika Gupta
Karthika Gupta

is a culture, people and travel photographer, based in the Chicago area. Her images are fun, fresh and natural, and her love for nature makes it way into most of her images. She also has a Free Travel Photography Demystified E-Course, a 5-Day video series to help you improve your travel photography.