Skip to content

The Subtle Art of Lens Whacking

Lens Whacking—or free lensing—is a low-fi technique that offers a truly unique look.

The basic idea is that you detach the lens from the body and gingerly tilt it in different directions as you shoot.

Joe working on his station wagon. I took this before “mastering” the focus. Notice how the left is even-more distorted than the right and also the giant light leak front and center.

The edge you pull away from will let light leaks into the frame whereas the opposite edge will totally distort. You’re basically changing the angle of the light hitting the sensor—the poor man’s tilt shift—with the added bonus of some retro-looking artifacts via the light leaks.  It sounds crazy but it can produce some really interesting images.

Here’s an in-depth breakdown of how it’s down:

Set the focus on your lens to infinity. Don’t skip this super important step. As you tilt the lens focus will rack from the background to the foreground. So, the more you tilt the lens the closer your subject needs to be for it to be in focus. Setting the focus to infinity lets you get as much distance as possible between you and an in-focus subject.

Erin saying, “Put the camera down! Our food is here!”

Detach the lens. Be super careful when doing this. A mote of dust can ruin a shoot, but even the tiniest piece of sand or dirt can perma-brick a camera. Know the risks going before you start. You don’t have to move the lens far from the body, at most you tilt it away a couple mm.

Joe looking real serious. Notice how the focus distorts as you move from right to left.

At one corner tilt the lens away from the body just the slightest bit. With the focus set to infinity pick a foreground subject and see how it comes into focus as you tilt/angle the lens away from the body. You only have to tilt one corner of the lens just a slight bit for this to work.

Dad and Tim sharing a laugh.

Work the light. Part of the wonderful look this creates derives from those awesome light leaks. If you’re shooting outdoors it shouldn’t be hard to find the right angle to let the sun in a corner of the exposure.

Momo smiling as always.

Your mileage may vary.  The technique can produce some beautiful imagery but getting the right light and using it to tell a story can be tricky. I think as I take more portraits, it’s something I’ll mix into the work, but it will take some practice to get reliable results.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *