Freelensing // Photography Techniques

It’s usually rare for photographers to share techniques that they use in a very public way. Many offer workshops (I do) and many just try to maintain a competitive edge by keeping their secrets and tips closely guarded. I think that’s silly. I enjoy sharing techniques I’ve used in real world situations and taken time to develop. Techniques that have proven very useful to me in difficult situations where thinking quickly has turned a tough situation into a beautiful moment. Sharing this information makes us all better photographers and really helps to raise the bar higher every wedding season.

Freelensing. It’s been around for a while. It’s essentially the “poor man’s tilt shift.” All the technique requires is disconnecting a lens from the camera body and floating it around in front of your sensor to shift the focal plane in weird directions. It takes practice to get accurate with it, but overall the technique is pretty straight forward.

I wanted to take it a bit further.

I decided that when floating my lenses in front of my camera there just wasn’t enough room to move around with. I wanted extreme focus angles and crazy vignetting. I wanted images to look completely organic and one of a kind. So, I broke a lens. Yup. I ripped the lens mount right off my nikon 50mm 1.8. Why 50mm? Why 1.8? Well, over time I found that the 50mm focal length is perfect for my way of seeing the world and great for getting the focus where I wanted it while freelensing. The 1.8 rear element is much smaller than a 1.4 or 1.2 so it really allows for a lot more movement.

To focus while freelensing you set your lens focus to infinity (or in my case the broken 50 1.8 was stuck on infinity) and move the lens forward and back from the sensor. You’ll see in live view of in your view finder how the focus plane shifts. Pretty straight forward, but takes a lot of practice to master!

I bought my 50 1.8 lens here. This exact lens will also work with canon cameras and virtually any other type of camera that you can hold a lens up to.

SO, here’s what I ended up with:

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Mine looks kind of dirty as I’ve been using it for a while. That glue looking area is just super glue that I used to keep the aperture ring open since I ripped off the stock aperture ring. Nikon lenses default with the aperture closed, but with canon lenses you would not need to do this. Here is a video showing the lens:

and here is a video demoing how the lens actually floats in front of a camera:

Here are some of my favorite examples of images I’ve made with this modified Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens:

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One of the cool benefits of having a lens without the mount on it is the ability to get in camera light leaks. All of the images you see here have organic and natural light leaks

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and here is a video demoing lightleaks and other freelensing effects:

So, you’re probably wondering if it’s safe to use your camera with such an exposed lens? Well, I’ve been doing this for nearly two years and not had a single problem. I clean my sensors regularaly using Visible Dust products. You probalby don’t want to do this while laying in mud, but overall just be smart and quick about when you decide to try it out.

Obviously, this technique isn’t going to appeal to everybody. Just like prisming it has a time and place. I just like sharing really cheap and easy ways to get more out of your equipment than perhaps you thought possible. This lens is super small and is worth just zipping into a side pocket for an added tool in your camera bag. There are products that offer a similar look (lensbaby) however you lose the ability to get light leaks and you lose the extreme focus shifts. Plus, my way is much cheaper.

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Photography by Washington DC Wedding Photographer Sam Hurd

About Sam Hurd

Sam is a professional wedding and editorial photographer based in the Washington DC area. He photographs 40+ weddings a year, press events, commercial portraiture, and regularly hosts workshops in his Baltimore MD studio and around the world. His work has been published internationally including the Wall Street Journal, the NYTimes, and the Washington Post. He's available for commissions worldwide.

Blog Comments

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  1. Nice P-Bass!

  2. nice dude-thanks for the tips!

  3. Gotta give you props, man! Many will praise this and I can see that many conservation ones will see this as gimmicky.

  4. I’m loving these pictures and this idea! I am curious about how you are focusing. Are you simply moving the lens forward and backward or are you turning the focus ring while holding the lens and camera?

  5. Thanks for your willingness to share your creative techniques, Sam. Not that I could carry off any of this with your flair, but it sure will be fun to try! I love all your examples.

  6. really nice!!! Sam you are a genius, by the way what lens did you used on the first video??

  7. Crazy! One thing that i never understood: how do you focus?

    Using the focus ring if the lens or by adapting distance of the lens?

  8. Thanks for sharing, Sam! I’ve been wanting to try this out but have feared getting dust on the sensor or breaking my lens. Definitely going to pick up another 50mm 1.8 and break that sucker!

  9. Domagoj Kunic says:

    Ron Paul!

    Respect, man!

  10. You are so awesome for sharing this… I’m totally going to try it. I love your examples.

  11. Thanks for posting this! I bought a 50mmm 1.8 just for this and always wondered how you had modified yours. Off to the Home Depot to get some super glue. Lol!

  12. hi,
    Do you use this modified lens on fullframe cameras too? I guess it’s dangerous, because of the bigger mirror.
    best regards.
    Alexander

  13. Hey, this is a really nice idea and inspired me to pursue freelensing again, after I had given up on it doing it with standard Nikon 1.4G lenses, which didn’t lead to anything presentable. I’ve converted an even cheaper used Canon 50F1.8 FD lens, but I’m having trouble with it as the mirror of my D700 sometimes touches the rear element of the lens. Ever had this problem? How long is the exposed tubus of the Nikon 50F1.8, or did you use this only with DX cameras with smaller mirrors?

  14. This is my first time pay a quick visit at here and i am genuinely pleassant to
    read all at one place.

  15. Sam, beautiful effect! Nice tip! I need this freelensing with my film camera, all analog way!!!

  16. Wonderful !!!!!!

  17. you rock.

  18. Sam – have you heard of the lensbaby lenses?

  19. Is it similar to Lensbaby right?

  20. replying to daniele > similar concept, but ht elena baby is much more restricting and has a stranger look to it that i’ve never liked.

  21. Nice! I really want to intentionally break my 50mm now.

  22. KITTAY!!!

  23. btw- so happy you use Nikon ;)

Trackbacks

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  2. [...] see more of Sam’s amazing work check out his website. His recent write up on freelensing is up and is a great read. CompositeDIYLightingReview googletag.cmd.push(function() { [...]

  3. [...] re-posted a link a while back  about freelensing from  Sam Hurd . Pretty awesome stuff he’s doing over there, so I thought I’d try it out. Freelensing [...]

  4. [...] of what I explored was my own camera and understanding a new favored technique called “Freelensing“. It’s a beautiful art of madness where one can fully control the focal field of the [...]

  5. [...] I stumbled over this article by Sam Hurd which made me reconsider freelensing: removing the lens mount of a lens gives you much more space [...]

  6. [...] el método Brenizer, su técnica en photoshop para descomponer en tres colores una escena, la técnica Freelensing etc., etc., etc… la pasamos estupendamente bien… compartimos con varios de nuestros amigos [...]

  7. [...] where specific areas of the image can be thrown far out of focus. Check out Sam Hurd’s piece on the [...]

  8. [...] Sam Hurd’s Explanation of Freelensing [...]

  9. [...] dieser Technik herum spielen. Ich habe während meiner kurzen Recherche auch die Anleitungen von Sam Hurd und Jay Cassario gelesen, die beschreiben, wie man ein günstiges Objektiv zerlegen bzw. [...]

  10. [...] something new with everyone and i love seeing what other photographers have done with prisming, freelensing, and brenizer methods (aka bokeh [...]

  11. […] Hurd – It’s ****in Sam Hurd.  Breakin lenses and taking names. He could turn aluminum foil, saran wrap and duct tape into a 4×5 camera. […]

  12. […] Hurd – It’s ****in Sam Hurd. Breakin lenses and taking names. He could turn aluminum foil, saran wrap and duct tape into a 4×5 camera. Then […]

  13. […] you can turn it into a selective focus lens (similar to Lensbaby). The included videos below came from Sam Hurd, the included images are by Francesco Spighi - visit his website for more information and sample […]

  14. […] [Via Nikon Rumors, Franscesco Spighi, & Sam Hurd] […]

  15. […] D800 (x 2) • Nikon 14-24 F2.8 • Nikon 28 F1.8 • Nikon 50 F1.4 • Broken Nikon 50 F1.8 for freelensing technique • Nikon 85 F1.4 • Manfrotto ML840H Maxima 84 LED Panel • Prism for Hurding technique • […]

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