Essential Guide to Freelensing

If you’ve never heard of freelensing before, it’s going to give you a heart attack or make your eyes light up – either way, freelensing is only for the brave, or the incredibly rich. It’s a completely innovative way of taking a photograph because your lens isn’t even attached to your camera!

What is Freelensing?

It’s not freelancing as some get confused with. Freelensing is a very unusual photography trick that not many people try out – and for good reason.

But considering we at iPhotography love a challenge it gives us the green light to try out a little bit of abstract photography.

Firstly, use a pretty basic camera to avoid damaging your expensive kit. The final result of freelensing is to, hopefully, capture some really dream-like, ethereal shots and discover along the way if it is as dangerous as everyone says it is.

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How to Get Started

First off, all you’re going to need is a camera and a lens that detaches. It doesn’t have to a DSLR either; mirrorless cameras will work just fine and you can even try this out with an old 35mm film camera.

If you don’t want to risk your expensive Canon 5D then see if you can pick up an old analogue camera from a yard sale or car boot market.

Top Tip – The only thing to look out for when using a digital camera is that it has the option of being able to operate the shutter when a lens isn’t attached. This isn’t always a default function so you may need to navigate through your menu system to turn this feature on.

Freelensing Subjects

Now, what is the best type of subject to photograph for freelensing? Well in honesty you can use absolutely anything or anyone.

Freelensing is all about the effect so it doesn’t really matter what or who you put in front of your lens. You can see in our YouTube video we had a go at portraits and macro shots just to see if there were any differences and difficulties. 

All that’s left to discuss is how to do. There are two ways to freelense; the sensible way and the dangerous way. Let’s look at both…

The Safe & Dangerous Methods

Tread Safely

Firstly, before you detach your lens, set it to manual focus. This will allow you to tweak the sharpness as you take your shots as you can’t rely on autofocus from here on in. Secondly, set your camera up on a tripod and detach your lens.

Make sure that your camera is set up to allow the shutter release without the lens attached. Keep the lens a few millimetres away. Look through your viewfinder to gauge the best distance. You may find that some LCD screens don’t operate when the lens is taken off.

What You’ll See

As you look through the viewfinder you’ll see your subject shift in and out of focus. That’s simply because your hands are always moving. Therefore, you’ll need to play with the focus ring at the front to get it sharp. Obviously this is a very ‘handsy’ operation; one hand is holding the lens and the other is trimming the focus ring as well as hovering over the shutter.

The effect you’ll get is heavily blurred around the edges making your shot look distorted with a small area of sharpness. It may be overexposed too because of all the extra light that’s creeping into the sensor behind the lens. Depending upon your camera you may also experience some light leaks of different colours, especially if your camera doesn’t have an AA filter (anti-aliasing).

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Top Tip – You need to remember to clean your sensor when you’ve finished. You never know what bits of dust may have gotten into your camera whilst the lens is off.

Does Fortune Favour the Brave?

Now is time to try the ‘dangerous’ approach to freelensing. The only difference this is that you don’t use your tripod. May seem more efficient but in practise, it’s actually more prone to problems.

It’s not easy, but it’s a quick experiment if you don’t want to use a long lens! You’re best using a lightweight camera and a cheap kit lens. Holding the two parts can get a bit strenuous after a while.

The danger increases when you are intensely focusing on the position of the lens and the focus points but you’ve got to try and remember your spatial awareness as you don’t want to get knocked by passers-by’s and drop something.

Send Us Your Pictures

There we go, freelensing explained! If this guide and video have inspired you to give freelensing a try yourself then we would LOVE to see your results. Upload them to the iPhotography gallery or tag us in your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram posts.

If you’ve found any other tips or pitfalls to warn others about when freelensing then again let us know.

Visit our online photography course and find out how to get started on your own photography adventure.

And don’t forget if you want to be one of the first to see more of our photography articles and photography videos, then make sure you’re subscribed and turn on that notification icon to our YouTube channel. We post new photography articles every week.

Top Tip – If you want to explore more creative light tutorials like this, why not join our certified online Light Tricks photography course today.

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The other challenge when shooting through glass is the tinting. Unfortunately, architects and designers didn’t think about us photographers when creating these skyscrapers.

Their windows are invariably tinted in some way to help with heating.

This means that some of your photos may have a green/grey tint to them.

It’s not the biggest issue as you can rebalance this tint in editing with the ‘tint’ slider for example.