Lensbaby Velvet Photography

Photographing with a Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f/1.6 Macro Lens

 

In a previous Lensbaby Photography I talked about my experience photographing with a Lensbaby Composer. I’ve had the Lensbaby Composer for several years. Recently, I had the chance to test out a newer Lensbaby model. That is, the Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f/1.6.

First impressions: This particular Lensbaby Velvet is lightweight, small size, and quite different from a regular lens, and, to my surprise, from my older Lensbaby Composer. I’ve once heard a photographer describing the Lensbaby as the poor man’s (or starving photographer’s maybe?) tilt shift lens. That’s because, with Lensbaby Composer and its predecessors you could ’tilt’ the lens, not so much not to distort walls (as a tilt shift lens would do) but rather to capture special effects, and there’s a whole universe of fantastic special effects possible with a Lensbaby. There is no tilting or twisting with the Lensbaby Velvet 56mm. It’s easy to use, once you get the hang of it. And that you can do pretty fast, too.

Something else I had to get used to was macro photography–better said, the idea of macro photography, of capturing subjects up close and personal. I don’t take macro shots too often, but Lensbaby Velvet 56mm helped me reconsider the many possibilities macro has to offer. In the process, I had to really slow down, which I embrace especially these days, and discover a fascinating mini-universe.

I took various shots, from up close, and also from a certain distance.

So, what can one photograph with a Lensbaby Velvet 56mm lens?

Whenever you test out new gear, it would be a good idea, I’d say, to start by photographing what you like, what you know or are most interested in or passionate about. This way, you start with something that’s familiar, something that you know, you like, and want to explore.

I started by photographing subjects that I like and are easy to find in the area. Hence, the shot of the Freedom Tower posted below. I focused on the Freedom Tower (One WTC), at the base of the antenna. I decided to include part of the tree, for balance. It was an overcast day.

Direction. Freedom Tower and the Tree. Lensbaby Velvet Photography by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Direction. Freedom Tower and the Tree. Lensbaby Velvet Photography by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved. #lensbabyvelvet56

 

I also took a picture from inside the Oculus, the new WTC train station. I tried to capture “the big picture” an overall view of the interior, and then I started to look for details, and decided to focus on patterns.

The Oculus in velvet b&w. Lensbaby Velvet Photography by Alina Oswald.
The Oculus in velvet b&w. Lensbaby Velvet 56 Photography by Alina Oswald.

It seems to me, at least so far, that the look of the velvet effect created by the Lensbaby Velvet 56mm is slightly different in a wide-angle image than it is in a detail shot.

Velvet Angles. Lensbaby Velvet Photography by Alina Oswald.
The Right Angles Inside the Oculus. Lensbaby Velvet 56 Photography by Alina Oswald.

 

I also had to take a shot of the old cemetery nearby, St. Paul churchyard, right across the Freedom Tower and the Oculus. Photographing cemeteries has been maybe an obsession of mine, for quite a long time. Here’s a shot:

Velvet Forever Bed. Lensbaby Velvet Photography by Alina Oswald.
“What’s Next?” Lensbaby Velvet Photography by Alina Oswald.

 

“The answer is blowing in the wind.” Lensbaby Photography by Alina Oswald.

Another subject I try to photograph every time I get the chance is the Katyn Soldier Memorial. Here it is, shot with a Lensbaby Velvet 56, in color and black-and-white:

 

Another favorite of mine is the solar clock on the waterfront.

I also tried to focus on details. I noticed the lock shown below.

Velvet Lock. Lensbaby Velvet Photography by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Velvet Lock. Lensbaby Velvet Photography by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

One note I’d like to make: no matter what gear you use, take a moment to compose your image.

I also looked at shapes and textures, like in the image below.

V is for Velvet. Lensbaby Velvet Photography by Alina Oswald.
“V is for Velvet” Angles and DOF. Lensbaby Velvet Photography by Alina Oswald.

Having to slow down when photographing helps you not really, really taking your time studying your subjects, considering composition, vantage points, cropping in camera. And a Lensbaby, in particular a Lensbaby Velvet macro lens really helps you do just that. It’s quite an enlightening experience.

Lensbaby Velvet 56 works great, if not the best, when photographing detail shots, in particular wedding detail shots, delicate subjects, luxury objects, jewelry, and so on.

Here’s a plant, a very velvety plant I photographed using my Lensbaby Velvet.

Plant on a Plate. Lensbaby Velvet Photography by Alina Oswald.
Plant on a Plate. Lensbaby Velvet Photography by Alina Oswald.

So, my thoughts so far, on photographing with a Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f/1.6:

  • it takes some getting used to, but getting to explore the ins and outs of this lens and trying it out offer an exciting experience and can lead to creating beautiful photography
  • Lensbaby Velvet is nothing like Lensbaby Composer; there’s no tilting and, as far as I can tell so far, there are no aperture rings or creative aperture rings
  • it is pretty small in size, lightweight, and easy to carry
  • Lensbaby Velvet works on a full sensor and cropped sensor camera (this might be obvious, but I just wanted to mention it, in case anybody wonders)
  • as I’ve noticed so far, I believe that this lens works best when capturing detail shot, wedding detail shots; use it sparely, though; don’t photograph all your detail shots when covering an event/wedding only with a Velvet (unless it’s a test of some kind), but do take a few shots with the Lensbaby Velvet; this lens, if used wisely, can really make your photography stand out; after all, you want to keep your work fresh and different, and you want people to ask you “How did you do that?” or “How did you take that shot?”
  • Lensbaby Velvet is a great excuse and reason to test out new gear, explore new ideas, and try out that photo exercise many photography teachers or mentors might have mentioned to you–that is, to spend a day photographing using only one lens

 

Bottom line is, give (Lensbaby) Velvet a try. You’ll be amazed by what this lens can do for your photography and the Velvet universe it will you’ll get to discover.

 

More on my own Lensbaby Velvet experience coming soon. Until then!

As always, thanks for stopping by!

Alina Oswald

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2 Comments

  1. Hello Alina,
    thank you for sharing your valuable experience with the lens baby. However, it is not very clear for me, what makes the greatest difference between a normal Canon lens, say 50mm/2,4 and this lens. May be you find time to answer my question. I would appreciate it.
    Greetings Klaus

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    1. Hello Klaus,

      Thanks for your kind words and question. Your question reminds me to mention that Lensbaby is made for Canon and for Nikon, so, you’d need to get the right one for you camera.

      Now, a short answer to your question would be, a Lensbaby is different in the way you use it, shoot with it, and the effects that you can create with it. Now, one at a time:

      The Composer has aperture rings cut in different shapes (round different sizes corresponding to different f-stops, star, heart). The Velvet has a singlet-double-singlet optical design that helps create the soft-glowing effect at wide apertures (that the Velvet 56 is known for).
      Velvet (and Composer) does slow you down. The Nikon 50mm is faster. So is your Canon 50mm, I assume. But in the Velvet case, slowing down is the purpose.
      Also, when photographing with a Lensbaby Velvet 56, you shoot in Manual Focus only.

      In general, a Lensbaby helps create a sweet spot (that’s in focus) and everything around it is blurry. Depending on the kind of Lensbaby you use, the sweet spot can be more or less in focus (Lensbaby Velvet 56 does a much better job here than the Composer, but, again, it’s a matter of what look, feel, mood you want to achieve). What’s also specific to a Lensbaby is the bokeh that it creates. That bokeh gives a soft,nostalgic, whimsical maybe, velvet-like look when shooting with a Lensbaby Velve 56.

      I think the idea, here, is to use Lensbaby to try out something new, see the world (and your photography or subjects you photograph) in a new and different way, achieve a particular look, whenever that look adds something to your work.

      I’ll add more posts on Lensbaby. Thanks again for your comment and question.
      Alina

      Like

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