Lensbaby Composer Pro II Sweet 80 Optic Girl brown eyes orange dahlia blue dress beauty dish fine art children's portrait photography

Portraits With A Lensbaby

A Portrait Session

Using The Lensbaby Composer Pro with Sweet 80 Optic

I shot a full portrait session using a Lensbaby Composer Pro II with Sweet 80 Optic. Here’s how it went…

Helpful hearsay

For years I had only delivered work for clients, something which is imperative for paying the bills. But what I found was that years of shooting for someone else had really stunted my creativity.  Someone pointed out to me that I needed to shoot for me as well as my clients. They told me that it would help me stay at the top of my game and avoid losing my mojo. They weren’t wrong.

I’d heard from a fellow photographer that the Lensbaby system was brilliant for getting the creative juices flowing. Apparently they helped the photographer to see things that they would never have noticed before. The following video is a brilliant run down of some of the new products that Lensbaby are offering at the moment and really helped me decide which one to go for.

The One

The Composer Pro II with Sweet 80 Lens seemed to be the perfect choice for me.  As a wedding and portrait photographer, my 85mm prime lens is my current favourite and produces the least distortion. I wanted something similar which could provide me with more creative options in-camera. I found this option via Wex and paid £229 for the Composer Pro II housing and Sweet 80 Optic in total.

 

Let’s do it!

I organised a full portrait session in my cabin studio which, in hindsight, was probably a little ambitious. I’d never used the lens before, in fact, it arrived only a few hours before my subject arrived at my studio!

I’d spent the morning at The Southwold Flower Co. flower fields, and picked some incredible blooms to add a pop of colour. I had a few moments before my subject arrived to have a practice run.

It was much harder than I thought.

A happy by-product of experimentation

I actually really love this first image as it has a vintage, almost ethereal feel about it. It reminds me of some of the early photographs from the 1900s. Not completely in focus but full of character and a sense of mystery. While experimenting with the tilt function, I moved the sweet spot around. This was another challenge as it meant that it could be difficult to see where the focus point was falling. Especially hard if you are shooting at f/2.8 (which I’d attempted with this image and the reason it isn’t sharp).

 

The not so ‘Sweet Spot’

The first thing I noticed was that getting that ‘Sweet Spot’ of focus right was tough. You select your aperture on the outer ring and then bend your lens to move the sweet spot around. The smaller the number (wider you shoot), the harder it is to see that sweet spot as it diminishes significantly. As you are focusing manually, there is no correlation between your focus point and the sweet spot. It takes some practice to get used to this as you have to really watch where your focal point is.

 

What you see is what you get

The larger aperture you go for (up to f/16), the less light is seen in the viewfinder. As a professional photographer you know that the wider you shoot the more light is let in. But modern cameras and lenses don’t show you this as it happens. You would normally adjust your ISO and everything is still clear in the viewfinder.

Not in this case.

When shooting wide with a Lensbaby, you have to make sure you don’t flood the scene with too much light. If you do, your image will be blown. If you are shooting at f/16, you’ll struggle to see your subject as the light is restricted in the lens. This means that you have to physically increase the light in the area or increase your ISO. This will then be reflected in your viewfinder.

 

Experiment with depths of field

This one was closer to the mark with the focus being on the little girl’s face. I had to stop down to about f/11 to make sure the sweet spot was on her eyes. Because of this, I then had to increase the ISO and up the power on the studio light.

Lensbaby Composer Pro II Sweet Optic 80 Ethereal vintage children's portrait photography sage green silk dress purple flowers butterflies fine art Lensbaby

Happy!

These three portraits came out really well and I’m super pleased with them. The first was at f/5.6 and I had to walk backwards to make sure the focus was on her eyes. I love how her quiff and the bottom of her hair and some of the butterfly go out of focus.

Hit & Miss

I’m really pleased with how these came out! The only thing is that her eyes are slightly out of focus on the portrait on the first and last images. I used f/4 and as this sweet spot is much smaller, thought I could step backwards and get it over her eyes. I’d failed to notice that the lens was slightly off-centre from a previous shot I’d taken where I’d taken using the tilt function. The portrait in the middle came out beautifully although I may crop in so the hand is lost out of the frame.

Playing it safe? Or getting it right?

I went with f/11, knowing it would make the sweet spot larger. This way I would have more chance of getting her face in focus. I also stepped as far back as my space would allow to maximise the chance of it being in focus.

If I’d had time to practice, I may have found a way to get to f/2.8 and the sweet spot in the right place. However I didn’t have that time and thought that I managed pretty well considering it was my first time! In any case, I’m really happy with how this turned out.

 

Lensbaby Composer Pro II Sweet 80 Optic girl brown eyes blue dress freckles orange dahlia fine art children's portrait photography

My absolute favourite

This one has my heart. I went with an aperture of f/8 and I WISH I had gone with f/11 or f/16 to get the orange dahlia completely in focus. It is still my favourite image of the afternoon though and I’m so pleased with the distortion from the flower and below. What it does to the sparkles on her collar and the texture of the velvet dress is lovely, all while keeping her eyes in pin-sharp focus.

Lensbaby Composer Pro II Sweet 80 Optic girl brown eyes blue dress freckles orange dahlia fine art children's portrait photography

The Wild One

This one was a real risk for me. I had asked my talented friend from Alfred Dubois Millinery to create the headdress and had used another incredible flower from The Southwold Flower Co. to set off the little birds we’d added at the last minute. I decided to go for it and shoot at f/4 and back up as far as I could go. You’ll notice that the sweet spot is over the eye closest to the camera and not quite over the other. To be honest, I’m not even worried about that because I am over the moon with the rest of it. When I asked for the headdress to be made, I hadn’t factored on this level of distortion so wasn’t prepared for it to be so out of focus. However, I really like how it’s turned out. The level of bokeh at the top and the bottom of the image really sets it off for me. How funny that it is nothing like the image I had in my head when we set it up!

Lensbaby Composer Pro II Sweet 80 Optic wild girl nature headdress giant yellow dahlia wild hair feral pretty fine art children's portrait photography

The verdict

So I may have been over-ambitious in my planning of a full portrait session. This much is true. But I think it worked!

This portrait session, shot with a Lensbaby Composer Pro II with the Sweet 80 Optic, went VERY well. The lens has so much creative versatility, I’m already planning to shoot on location with it. I WANT to put it on my camera and go on an adventure to see what it unearths. There is no question that I am going to have to use it a LOT to get to grips with how it works. But I am so excited to do just that. The whole reason I bought this lens in the first place is because I had lost my mojo. In a single session, it has reignited my passion for photography and made me want to get out there and shoot.

I would say that for that reason alone, it’s worth every penny.

 

Special thanks to Sarah & Mali Elbaz, The Southwold Flower Co., Alfred Dubois Millinery and Lensbaby. If you would like to book a portrait session, please click here. Thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment or follow us on social media.


Take better pictures of your family...

This is real life.

There is something you all need to know. Nobody loves the hundreds of photos you have on your phone of your kids grimacing out the word “cheese”. Even less so the ones with the ‘cute’ snapchat filter on that makes them look like some kind of weird pixie cat. While we’re here, I’m just going to throw it out there that with that filter on, you look ridiculous too.

So there it is – I’m just telling you what you already know. And if you didn’t… you do now.

Here is how you fix it.

Taking pictures of your family, whether it be your kids or your Grandma, or you sister or your dog, should not be just about how pretty it looks. It should not be about how to manipulate them into looking like creatures from another planet. Family photography should be about capturing the moment. Immortalising snippets of your life so that you can go back and remember what it was like, for real, when the kids have grown up and flown the nest. With all the incredible mobile phones and point-and-click cameras available on the market, there should be no excuse for taking naff, meaningless photos.

Here are a few ways to improve yours:

Make sure there is enough light.

Taking photos outside, at daytime, should mean that you get crisp, clear, bright images. You will notice that the photos you take in the sunshine are always the sharpest ones right? Light is important. If you don’t have enough, switch on your flash or turn on some lamps/lights. If you don’t you risk your pics being blurry.

Focus!

It might seem obvious, but try and take the time to focus your images. On a phone, this usually means tapping on the area of the image you want to be sharp, before you take the photo. With most cameras, it means holding the shutter button down halfway to focus and then pressing it down all the way to take the picture. A lot of the modern cameraphones (such as the iPhone X) have some incredible new features, including depth of field. This means that you can focus on your subject and choose how blurry you want the background to be. Very cool for a phone.

Compose.

Think about the scene. Is there a lamppost sticking out of the top of his head? Is the top of her head cut off? Where have his feet gone?! Make sure that you have everything you want to photograph INSIDE the frame. Equally, think about what might be in the frame that you might not want in there. (What a lovely photo of your little boy! Shame the dude in the background is knuckle deep up his nostril, digging out a booger).

DON’T say ‘Cheese’!

This will NEVER get you a natural smile. Try making silly noises, making a joke, distracting or getting them to say a rude/silly word, and then take the picture when they’re laughing afterwards. It’s all about natural smiles.

Don’t get frustrated.

Let’s face it, children especially can be sooooo frustrating when you are trying to get a good photo of them. But getting ratty will not get you natural smiles. Walk away and try again later or get someone else to take the pic.

Capture the natural.

The absolute best photos of life are taken when no-one realises you are doing it. Observe, appreciate and document what happens in real life but try not to orchestrate. At the end of the day, you want to look back at these photos and remember exactly how it used to be. When your children have all grown up and flown the nest, you WILL go back over old photos. How sad would it be if all you had was photos of you and your children looking NOTHING like yourselves but highly resembling something somewhere between a cat and a Pokémon.

Answer: It would be tragic.

Last of all, if you really want some good photos of your family, whether it be portraits or lifestyle, pay to have a professional do them for you. It is one of the soundest investments you will ever make. Whether it’s documentary style or a studio shoot, you will never, ever regret having them done and on your wall.


The 'Rock God' Shoot

The gear

This little look was created in my cabin studio in a space no bigger than about 4×4 metres. I used:

  • 2 x Godox TT600 speedlights with in-built wireless transmitters
  • 1 x Godox X System receiver
  • 2 x basic light-stands
  • Magmod Sphere
  • Magmod creative gel kit
  • Nikon D810
  • Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8
  • Atmosphere In A Can (‘Canned Fog’)

Why this? Why now?

As a natural light photographer, working with flash and gels has not been something I’ve dabbled with much before.

So I did what I usually do when something evades me, I went and got some training from some industry leaders and went to town trying to make it work.

The first thing I will say is that in the 12 or so years I’ve been taking pictures, I realised that I have NEVER shot for me. I always have clients needs in mind, so am fairly limited in what I can create for them. I mean, not everyone wants to be photographed in a steampunk dress with crazy hair, holding a chicken do they?! (Unless you do… in which case, get in touch NOW).

Here is a little run down on what I did to create our ‘Rock God’ look…

This shot was set up with a basic light stand set about two feet behind Henry on both the left, and the right of him. A speedlite was connected to the top of each stand and pointing inwards towards him. Each speedlite had a different coloured gel on, in this case, one was pink and one was blue. This was shot at 70mm with the ISO set at 100, the aperture at f/14 and the shutter speed at 1/250 of a second. I had each speedlite set somewhere between 1/8th and 1/16th of power. To add to the image I had my assistant spray some canned fog across into the mid-point between the two speedlites, behind Henry.

What worked?

We were all pretty pleased with this result as it gave Henry quite a nice rim light on each side and in contrasting colours. The fog was lit up nicely on either side too providing a really nice, textured backdrop.

What could have been improved?

Looking at it now, I wish that I had added a neutral key light at the front to illuminate Henry’s face a little and the front of the guitar, including where his hands are placed. I would not have used the Magmod Spheres on both of the speedlites either as I would have achieved a wonderful flare from each of the lights if I hadn’t. As a result of this oversight, I have had to crop out the brightest point of light on each side as you can clearly see the Spheres in place on either side.

This image was shot at 70mm, at an ISO of 100, a shutter speed of 1/250 and the aperture at f/14. Exactly the same as the last one. The only thing we changed here was the positioning of the light. I left the speedlite with the blue gel where it was, slightly behind and to the left of Henry. Then I moved the pink one around to the front, in the opposite position to the one behind Henry. This was then used as the key light and illuminated Henry from an angle.

What worked?

Again, we really liked this one, especially the contrast of colours against one another. It was also nice to see Henry’s face and what he is doing here. It gives quite a nice ‘live gig’ feel which was the main aim of this shoot.

What could have been improved?

If I’d had another TT600, I may have one where the pink one was originally, again with a blue gel so that Henry had a rim light on both sides of him. This would have created some much needed separation between his arm, the neck and head of the guitar and the background. I would have also maybe increased the power of the key (pink) light or decreased the power of the rim light. This would have meant the focus would have been more on Henry and his guitar.

This image was shot at 50mm as I wanted to fit Henry completely into the frame. The ISO remains at 100, the aperture has been changed to f/10 here so that the backdrop is slightly more visible but the shutter speed remains at 1/250 of a second.

To make things even more simple, I ditched one of the speedlites and placed the remaining one (complete with blue gel) directly behind Henry, about halfway up his back and facing him.

What worked?

Gladly, most of it! I was deliberately aiming for a silhouette style image and this is what I got. It has a wonderful gig poster feel to it which works perfectly in this context.

What could have been improved?

Having blown this up and inspected it, I can notice that the light behind Henry has illuminated his ears so I would have covered the back of his ears with dark electrical tape to prevent this (yep, apparently that’s a ‘thing’ in the world of studio photography)!. Also, there is a very small amount of light reflecting from the ceiling onto his forehead and shoes so I may have had to use flags to prevent this. The only other thing is that I had used a muslin backdrop which had fallen down onto the smooth wooden flooring and had to ‘clean’ this up in PhotoShop. I would have perhaps used an all-in-one solution to prevent this.

Exactly the same as the silhouette image, this was shot at 50mm to fit Henry entirely into the frame. The ISO was set at 100, the aperture at f/10 for a little more background detail and a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second. The speedlite with the blue gel was left exactly where it was, behind Henry and about halfway up his back. The ‘ditched’ speedlite was brought back into play, extended up quite a bit higher and placed to my right, facing Henry at about a 45 degree angle. The gel was taken off so that a neutral/warm light illuminated Henry from the front through the Sphere. A grid was added to prevent the spill of light from affecting anything other than Henry.

What worked?

This was, by far, my absolute favourite image of the set. It is almost perfect (in my eyes and wearing my ‘Mummy Goggles’ of course). The pose, the expression on Henry’s face, the colours and the composition just work for me and I’m really proud of it. It’s one that has already been printed, ready to frame for the wall.

What could have been improved?

There are only two things that I think I would have changed on this image. The first is that I think I would have swapped out the Magmod Sphere on the key light for a larger modifier, perhaps even a strip box to illuminated Henry from his head down to at least the bottom of the guitar.

The second, and probably most irritating oversight being that I wish I had plugged the bloody guitar in.  (!!?#@!!)

Still, we live and learn right?