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Free Lensing: how to shoot without a lens for maximum creative effect

It’s a little-known fact, but if you remove the lens from your SLR and hold it a few centimetres away from your camera you can still take a picture. The technique, known as freelensing, allows you to twist and alter the angle of the lens, which shifts and skews the plane of focus. This can create wonderful painterly effects.

While the process itself is relatively straightforward, it also involves a lot of trial and error. There’s an element of chance to capturing a good shot, and you’ll need to experiment with the twist and angle of the lens – bend the lens towards your light source to avoid light leak.

It’s nearly impossible to get the lens into the same position twice, so it’s equally tricky to replicate a successful shot. This is one of the technique’s most frustrating, but also most rewarding, features – if you persist you’ll soon get the knack.

Freelensing: how to shoot creative photos without your lens

Obviously, removing the lens exposes your camera’s sensor to the elements, so take care and clean the sensor as soon as you’re finished (check out this perfectly safe guide to sensor cleaning).

Once captured, you can use your editing software to give your best shot a retro, cross-processed look. Read on to find out how it’s done…

Free lensing technique - step 1

Step 1: Switch to Manual

A fast prime lens such as a 50mm f/1.4 is ideal for this technique, but you can get good results with any lens. Set the lens to its widest aperture (eg f/1.4) and set the focus to infinity manually.Set your SLR to Manual mode and select an appropriate shutter speed. Your camera’s automatic modes won’t work, so check exposure carefully.

Free lensing technique - step 2

Step 2: Bend and twist
Remove the lens from the camera and hold it a few centimetres from the camera body, as shown above. Twist and angle it while looking through the viewfinder and watch parts of the image come in and out of focus. Take plenty of shots if you like what you see, because it’s virtually impossible to replicate an effect again.

Free lensing technique - step 3

Step 3: Edit your shot
Shoot in raw for maximum quality. Once processed in Adobe Camera Raw, try experimenting with some creative colour techniques. We used Nik Color Efex Pro 3 to add a cross-processed effect, but you can get similar results by tweaking the colour channels in a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer in Photoshop CS or Elements.


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