I recently had the opportunity to shoot with my long-distance friend David Saffir. We are usually thousands of miles apart, so this was a great chance to work side-by-side. One of the goals of the shoot was for David to experience Lensbaby’s lenses and macro attachments, and since the upcoming webinar Datacolor is co-sponsoring with Lensbaby is on floral photography, we went to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, as a prime location for shooting native California flowers, as well as landscapes.
When reviewing images after the shoot, I was struck by a pair of shots of the same view across Mission Canyon. David Saffir’s image was taken with the Fujifilm X-Pro1, with the 35mm f/1.4 lens. Mine was shot with the Canon 5D Mark lll, with a Lensbaby Composer lens. Comparing the two images is a good opportunity to analyze Lensbaby photography; highlighting some of its unique features.
Lets start with the “straight” photo, shot with the X-Pro1. David cropped this image to what he felt was the best composition. The slightly hazy air, and its effect on the shaded portion on the opposite canyon wall was part of what had drawn his attention to this scene, along with the powerful silhouetting of the foreground tree trunks, and their dramatically lit leaves. Here the eye moves around the composition, following the dark lines created by the tree trunks and limbs, and settles on the leaves, and finally on the little vignette of the trees on the far side later in the examination of the image. This is how traditional landscape photography controls the eye of the viewer to draw it to the areas of interest.
Now, lets compare this to the Lensbaby shot. Here the branch with the orange leaves has been placed in the center of the image, where the sharp focal zone occurs, making it a more important part of the composition. And the sun has been placed where it will shine through the trees, producing a dazzling effect. So, even standing side-by-side, the intended compositions are somewhat different. But in both images the small story of the delicate tracery of branches on the far wall of the canyon is important. However, with the Lensbaby image, further emphasis is placed on this scene, as well as on the branch of orange leaves in front of it, by the selective focus of the Lensbaby lens.
The outer regions of the “standard” image are as sharply focused as the central area, allowing the eye to move into and out of them at the same tempo as the center of the image, with only the content to control the eye movement. But in the Lensbaby shot, increasingly less focus, and more distortion, occurs in areas farther from the focal center. This creates an artistic blur effect that mimics the way the eye sees, making this image look “right” when the viewer is in the right range of distances from the image, and looking at the center of focus. To look elsewhere in the image is to view the blur that can’t usually be examined, as the focus of the eye moves as the viewer attempts to view these regions, bringing them into sharp focus as well. Here that does not happen, allowing the viewer to examine the peripheral regions, examining the blur and the stretching of the elements further out from the image center, which have a beauty all their own.
Both images are good compositions, and interesting images. The less literal and more poetic feel of the second image is caused almost entirely by the use of the Lensbaby lens. Not all viewers will be comfortable with this different way of seeing, but those with a more artistic view will immediately see the beauty of the Lensbaby version of the scene.