How to get started with freelensing

About The Author

CNET Editor

Lexy spent her formative years taking a lot of photos and dreaming in technicolour. Nothing much has changed now she's covering all things photography related for CNET.

Freelensing is a technique where you remove the lens from the front of your SLR or interchangeable lens camera, and hold it in position rather than locking it in place in the lens mount.

Tilting the lens back and forth gives you an effect that looks somewhat similar to that of a tilt-shift lens or a selective focus lens like a Lensbaby. Expect light leaks and lots of bokeh thanks to the shift in the plane of focus.

A word of warning, freelensing is not for the faint-hearted, as you could drop your lens or get dust and dirt on your sensor. The results are worth it, but proceed with caution.

A subtle example of freelensing at work. Watch the video for more examples.
(Credit: Lexy Savvides/CBSi)

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JerryB posted a comment   

You dont need to turn off the camera when removing the lens. With a canon the lens aperture will open fully when the camera is turned off or the lens is detached. If you want it stopped down when you remove the lens set the dial to aperture priority and stop down to where you want. Press the depth-of-field preview button next to the lens with one finger while detaching the lens. The DOF preview button will cause the camera to stop down. When you detach the lens the aperture motor's power is cut and the aperture is left where it was.

This is also a good trick if you are doing stop motion or time lapse photography. Lenses with motor controlled apertures do not repeat very well shot to shot and you get some annoying flickering in the resulting video. The trick here is press the DOF button and just rotate the lens a little bit so the contacts between the body and lens are disconnected and the body no longer has control of the lens. It does not take much, maybe 5 degrees from lock. Click the lens back in place to resume normal shooting.

When I worked at Laika on ParaNorman we used Canon 5DIIs with Nikon manual lenses to eliminate this issue.


HunterH posted a comment   

Uhhhh, this video really isn't a good example of "freelensing". The technique has been around for a while, and it's more commonly referred to as "lens whacking". Rather than set to infinity focus and keeping nearly everything in focus, a better look and interesting effect is accomplished by actually setting a shallow focus with a low aperture. Place your thumb in between the back of the lens and the lock ring on your camera body, and then shift it around balanced on your thumb. It'll look WAY cooler than what you see in video.

Only downside is it's tricky to keep focus of anything that shallow, but on the plus side its a very dreamy effect, with lots of in-out of focus racks, and light leaks.


Lexy Savvides posted a reply   

Hey Hunter, I think you must have missed the main part of the video - there are no real rules to freelensing or lens whacking, you can really approach it in any way! This is just an introduction for people who aren't familiar with the technique and hopefully will prompt people to try it for themselves.


StevenD2 posted a reply   

this felt very much like a video geared towards hipsters, because as she pointed out all the cool kids are doing it, though watching this didn't make me want to try it. If someone is interested to learn


StevenD2 posted a reply for james miller light leaks.


Lexy Savvides posted a reply   

That's fine - no one is forcing you to try it!


rpitre posted a comment   

an example of mine of lens freelancing flipped from early 80's


rpitre posted a comment   

a friend of mine showed this to me way back in college... circa 1980 and I have been doing ever since... not new but lotsa fun, especially if you turn the lens around instead and use it as a macro lens, focusing by moving the lens back


Lexy Savvides posted a reply   

Love that trick! Might be worth a video of its own :)

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