My Evolving Love of Soft Bokeh & The Buttery Lensbaby Effect

2년 전


First, A Mini Lesson

In a normal photograph, the 'focal plane' runs parallel to the 'film plane'.

Meaning, everything that falls within that band – within the 'area of acceptable sharpness' – will theoretically be in focus, while everything in front of and behind that given point will not be. The degree to which those parts of the image are 'out-of-focus' depends largely on the kind of lens used, as well as exposure settings.

This is known as 'depth-of-field'. There are other factors that impact DOF (such as distance between the 'film plane' and 'focal plane'), but – for simplicity's sake – we'll stick to the basics.

'Short' lenses combined with small apertures –35mm @ f22, for example – will result in photos that are in focus throughout the frame, while 'long' lenses combined with wide apertures – such as 135mm @f2.0 – will create a very narrow band of clarity, resulting in that buttery soft, mostly out-of-focus image that is only sharp in key places.

the image on the left was taken with a 50mm @ f16 while the right was a 135mm @f2.0

Of course, there's much territory to be explored between those two extremes.

The lens/setting combos you choose are a simple matter of personal preference, and – naturally – what gear you have access to. Over time, these choices are what give photographers their unique voice, further clarified/colored by decisions made during post-production.

As avid or pro photographers, the voice we embrace informs our monetary investment. While it's true that impressive photos can be taken with the crappiest of cameras, it's also true that better equipment generally results in better images.

I've been saying it for years; you're either limited or liberated by your tools.


The Beauty of Shallow

As a budding pro-photographer in late 2006, I quickly settled into a clear preference for 'shallow' DOF.

From the moment I first heard the term 'bokeh' and understood what it meant; essentially 'out-of-focus points of light'...I became obsessed with creating that effect – the softer the better. I loved (still do) how the reduction of focus to the narrowest thread enabled me to gently control what the viewer paid attention to, allowing me to wordlessly convey...'this is the part that matters.'

The more I learned about my chosen craft, the more frustrated I became, disheartened by the marked difference between what I saw when I pressed the shutter and how the resulting photos turned out; full of distracting visual clutter. No matter how hard I tried, too much remained in focus.

Achieving the kind of softness I craved demanded an upgrade; from the limitations of my first DSLR and the 'kit lens' it came with – a Canon EOS 30D and 18-55mm f3.5 zoom lens – to the liberation of a pro body and better quality, 'fast' glass – a Canon EOS 5D and 24-70mm f2.8 macro; my first L-series lens.

It wasn't long before I outgrew that lens, too, adding my first two 'primes' (fixed focal lengths) – an 85mm f1.8 and 50mm f1.4. Within the year I'd made yet another leap; to a Canon EOS 5D Markii and my first L-series prime – a 35mm f1.4.

The combination of high quality sensor and pristine glass with suuuper wide apertures gave me beautifully crisp details surrounded by impossibly soft bokeh. I was hooked.

Finally – the images I was creating externally began to resemble my internal perceptions.


Simplified Vision

That same 35mm still holds its sacred spot in my camera bag. As does the 85mm f1.2 I added to my collection right before flying to India in late 2009. I carried both of them across the subcontinent, through Nepal and the Annapurna Himalayas, then back through Northern India.

Having no other focal lengths to choose from for that year of travel changed how I engage with my gear, simplifying the process by eliminating the need to choose.

As I explored the richness around me, I'd carry only one lens, making a selection and committing to it. I rarely (if ever) regretted the lack of an alternative. Instead, I found my vision was informed by whichever lens I was carrying that day; I'd 'see' only that which was best 'honored' through that lens. (Someday I'll post about why I use the word 'honor' rather than 'capture' or 'take'. For now, I'll stick to the most common/familiar.)

Back on North American soil, I maintained that practice. Nearly a decade later, it's now a deeply engrained habit; I photograph exclusively with primes, carrying as little extraneous gear as possible.

It's a wonderfully quiet, intimately engaged way to observe, zooming in or out with one's feet rather than a lazy twist of the wrist.


Bending & Stretching

By mid-2012, with the addition of a 50mm f1.2, I'd amassed a decent collection of deliciously fast lenses. Eventually, I'd also invest in a 100mm f2.8 macro and a 135mm f2.0, but first, I decided to mix things up a bit with the purchase of a Lensbaby Composer Pro. Talk about buttery bokeh!

Without delving too deep or boring you with technical blabber about the 'Scheimpflug Principle', I'll try to explain the concept of 'tilt-shift' in simple terms, leaning on our mini-lesson from earlier in this post.

Tilt-shift lenses allow the user to tilt and shift the 'lens plane', changing its orientation in relation to the 'image plane'. Meaning; the 'area of acceptable sharpness' no longer runs parallel to the 'light-sensitive surface'.

These lenses are most commonly used when documenting architecture as they allow the photographer to straighten vertical lines – to correct the warping of natural perspective – ensuring the image is satisfyingly square and level in-camera. Sure – there are digital effects to assimilate such corrections in post, but it's far superior (in my humble opinion) to 'fix' perspective issues before you 'click'.

I had to learn this technique while in school, using a cumbersome large-format camera and 4"x5", analog film. It was incredibly time-consuming and tedious. It also made me deeply grateful for how far we've come in terms of evolving photographic technologies.

Only once in my professional career have I applied that learning for a client. Though I used a much easier-to-carry DSLR with a rented 24mm tilt-shift lens, it was still quite challenging and technical. No matter how satisfying the results, the process is far too labor-intensive for my liking.


And, then...there's the Lensbaby. [insert heart-eye emoji here]

This absurdly lightweight gem creates a very similar effect without the complicated tilt-shift mechanism.

Using a simple ball and socket, the lens can be easily swiveled, bending and stretching the focal plane in strange, unnatural ways. Granted, the effect is much harder to control, but that's part of its beauty.

The introduction of this playful gadget kept me on my toes, reinvigorating my enthusiasm for the magic of this craft. It forced me to let go a bit – to soften my standards ever so slightly – to appreciate images that otherwise might never have made it through my initial culling.

As primarily a portrait photographer, all that truly matters to me are the eyes. Under normal circumstances, the eyes must be tack sharp while everything else fades into soft, contextual color. With the Lensbaby, sometimes it was nearly impossible to get the eyes quuuuiiiite as sharp as I'd prefer, yet I enjoyed the challenge and loved the outcomes, regardless.

For the better part of 2012 I experimented with it – both professionally and otherwise – creating dreamy still portraits and surreal moving vignettes, pulling focus in intriguing, unexpected ways – discovering new perspectives.

I made the unfortunate mistake of bringing it to Burning Man that year. The fine, alkaline 'playa-dust' worked its way into the ball joint, destroying what had been decidedly smooth control. Its effect became even harder to manage after that. I've pulled it out on a few, special occasions, but it's just not the same.

Perhaps I'll invest in a new one someday. For now, I'll relish the nostalgia these images offer – sure was lovely while it lasted!

Here's a generous sampling for your curious amusement. ;)

xo, zippy
























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Great photos!


@zipporah great info on photography, I need to get more into the techniques. Thanks for sharing. Heard this on #pypt

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Says the guy who experiments beautifully with infrared! ;) I'd say you've already found your specialty. :)


@zipporah hehe theres always more to learn though.

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Wow... Amazing. What a powerful display of powerful imagery... Where do you get these powers Zippy? You should receive an award for most all-round artistic powerhouse. I'm not exaggerating when I say that your pictures, words and music are always stunning and that you make the world a better place. Thanks so much for sharing the fruits of your many talents with us! 🙏🏼💖


Winston!! My soul twin! Where've you been all my life?? It's been a hot minute; how're things?

You're always so absurdly kind to me – makin' me blush, repeatedly. You can't know how valuable your glowing reflections are to this complicated, tangled up human I presently inhabit. I so appreciate the way you see me.

Suffice it to say...I have need of such reminders; I'm not so good at seeing myself with such grace.

Thank you, friend.


Good stuff!


Yay! I got my favorite pirate to comment!

Though I know (and very much appreciate) that I can almost always count on your generous support, I consider it a great honor to receive even a brief comment from you. <3

Usually it's a drakos-sized upvote but not a worrrrrd. This time, it's the opposite. Imagining you smiling with approval as you read through this is really its own kind of upvote. Makin' me smile big in return! :)

Wow..just wow incredible photography - which I know you excel at but also so much in depth guidance on how to actually make the most of our own photos and make them look incredible - fabulous and thank you so much for teaching us all how to make out photos so much better. !COFFEEA 15


Awww, c0ff33a!! I've missed you, good sir. <3 Hope you've been swell!

Deeply grateful and humbled by your kind reflections – both here and over at #pypt this afternoon. Feelin' quite honored and seen. Warm hugs! xoxo

I absolutly Love your pictures 😍 and this was amazing post my friend.
Thank you for sharing this in #pypt and your talent in photography is a gift... dont ever stop. Thank you for sharing your secret in how to make magic of pictures 🤗🌹 love!


Thank you for being my 'incapable of brevity' buddy! :) Worry not...*I'll never stop studying and loving the fascinating, magical language of light. You can be sure I'll also continue sharing that love. <3


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This is such an amazing post filled with beautiful pictures. Thank you for sharing your talent with everyone.


Cheers, Wes. :<3 Thanks for helping create the initiative that's inspiring me to plug back in. ;)

@zipporah, this is hands down one of the best and most beautiful posts i've seen on this platform. You are amazing <3 My eyes feasted, my soul rejoiced! What a gorgeous article, and the photos you've chosen to accompany each section really painted your journey well <3 I am both educated and entertained by this <3

Aaah~ Really lovely article * ___ * You made my day <3


Awww, dear — you’ve made me giggle! Thank you for offering such an enthusiastic review. I honestly meant only to share a few Lensbaby pics, but I seem rather incapable of brevity! LOL! Turned into quite the retrospective instead. 🤷🏼‍♀️ Glad you so enjoyed it! 🤗💕

What an amazing collection of photos! Each one a work of art, which captures your attention so much better than a standard image.


I'm so glad you enjoy them! :)

Wow, very impressive photos and educating post. The techniques are way far for me who i can barely take a descent photo from my phone,lol.


Many thanks! And, yes – I know it's a bit heady. I couldn't help myself! Glad you made it through the nerdy muck. ;)

you really are a very talented photographer and have such a great eye. Thanks so much for sharing all these wonderful photos with us and for sharing some of your knowledge with us xx


Much appreciated, dear. <3 I had much more to choose from. It was actually the image curation that took the longest! I suffer from the paralysis of too much choice. Grateful my selections seem to have been good ones. :)

Amazing Cultural photography with an informative and well-written post, incredible


Thanks for taking the time to read and enjoy it! :)

Oh, @zipporah
I LOVE this post!
Thanks for sharing this on @pypt #pypt


As a photographer, and total Geek, I am loving this


So glad to hear it! I realize I got pretty heady, but it seemed fitting, so I just went with it. We need more nerd-speak on the chain. Yep!


Much obliged!! :)


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nice photos and nice explanation about photography, I'm so amazed that you have captured a great angle of people.

thanks for sharing in #pypt

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Thank you, kindly, good sir. I love photographing humans...even the furry, four-legged ones. ;)


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That is an impressive Post with impressive photos. Thanks


Thanks, Siphon! :)

You have discussed photography lesson on one article @zipporah
Now which one of those beautiful ladies above are you? :P


Ha! 👀 Not one of them is me. Though some tasteful MSFW self-portraits do exist — you’ll find none in this batch. 🌿

Beautiful photos and a detailed lesson all in one. Thank you for sharing.


Thank you, friend. :)

coffeea Lucky you @zipporah here is your COFFEEA, view all your tokens at Vote for c0ff33a as Witness


YUM, YUM! :)


This post has been manually curated, resteemed
and gifted with some virtually delicious cake
from the @helpiecake curation team!

Much love to you from all of us at @helpie!
Keep up the great work!


You deserve ALL THE CAKES! Bokeh is my favorite thing! I was just talking about it the other day and I am in a flickr group for bokeh lovers. Your photography is stunning, you are a true master. I hope the helpie bot generates one of the prettiest cakes for you! ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
Manually curated by @paintingangels.

@helpie is a Community Witness.
For more information about our project,
please visit this month’s UPDATE post.


It gave you ALL THE CAKES! AHhahaha.. the cake gods are with us.


Yes you DID! Now I'll have a bellyache, but....oh; it will be worth it. <3 Love yoooouuuu.


So...much...CAKES! nomnomnomnomnomnom....aaaaaaches

Thanks for sharing on Pimp Your Post Thursday

I am so glad you are gracing PYPT again with your beautiful, positive presence! You have been missed, so much, when you have been otherwise engaged! Your photos are superb, such exquisite slices of life! So love them! 💖


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Hi, @zipporah!

You just got a 0.29% upvote from SteemPlus!
To get higher upvotes, earn more SteemPlus Points (SPP). On your Steemit wallet, check your SPP balance and click on "How to earn SPP?" to find out all the ways to earn.
If you're not using SteemPlus yet, please check our last posts in here to see the many ways in which SteemPlus can improve your Steem experience on Steemit and Busy.

i especially love the fox and the focus on the human face as the world spins and blurs is key and keep portland weird, oh i miss PDX

Hi @zipporah!

Your post was upvoted by @steem-ua, new Steem dApp, using UserAuthority for algorithmic post curation!
Your UA account score is currently 5.413 which ranks you at #683 across all Steem accounts.
Your rank has dropped 1 places in the last three days (old rank 682).

In our last Algorithmic Curation Round, consisting of 148 contributions, your post is ranked at #31.

Evaluation of your UA score:
  • You've built up a nice network.
  • The readers appreciate your great work!
  • Good user engagement!

Feel free to join our @steem-ua Discord server

Hi zipporah the SHADE tokens are on the way.
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I'm very ignorant of technical photography terms, but those photos are so beautiful. And those collection of photos in the bottom end felt like moving. 100% Upvote from me.

You. Are. Amazing. And constantly blowing my mind. Love!!!

Amazing work. Absolutely amazing work. Love it. 100% upvote 💯💖

Oh that's helpful and interesting. Now if only my smartphone can do that... 😅

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I know about Lensbaby for many years but I never thought of it as something more than an amusing gadget. Today I changed my mind. Really amazing pictures :)

Simply stunning. Love these effects!

So. much. EYE CANDY!

I've seen @tattoodjay post about Lensbaby before, and it looks like an amazingly cool lens to work with. After scrolling up and down on this post a few times, I'm all the more interested in checking it out some time. Unfortunately, as amazeballs as my current Nikon is, it lacks the capacity of changing lens, so for now I'm just going to have to continue to admire from afar.

And while it's hard to pick a favorite from all of the ones you were honored with (I do like that particular phrasing, as I feel that way with many of my own photographs), the closeup shot of the green-eyed man is positively full of mischievous magical vibes! It's like you happened upon a woodland creature and snapped a shot before it winked out & disappeared in a cloud of sparkles!

  ·  2년 전

Congratulations, your post was discovered and featured by @OCD in its daily compilation #384!

If you give @ocd a follow – you can find other Gems!

With this nomination you will be able to use @ocdb - a non-profit distribution bot for whitelisted Steemians. We usually add everyone nominated at the end of the week. :) Check our website for the whitelist, queue and delegation info. Join our Discord channel for more information.

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  ·  2년 전

Wonderful shots and extremely captivating, super cool tech and technique, well done. Were the majority of those taken at the Burn or other festivals as well (as I do see some trees in that every intense DoF :) )?

wow, simply spectacular!! I guess I don't have to tell you that you are talented ;)

Excellent post. Awesome info and the pictures are amazing. I can see how it took a million days to write haha. Thanks for sharing your in depth knowledge


Thanks for takin' the time to work your way through this, SWP dear. I appreciate you. <3

You truly are an amazing photographer! I love all the photos and appreciate the amount of work you did by collecting all these photos for us. And I love the story you told! As well as the lesson and lens tips. And I'm sorry to hear what happened to one of your favorite lenses. I hope this post will get you upvotes as much as a new one is worth! :)


Much appreciated, new friend. 🙌🏼 After pouring so much time and attention into drafting this post, I’m grateful to know my efforts are so well-received. Cheers!⭐️

This is an excellent post! I'm always amazed by your photography, and your eye for it!


Much love, my dear Amber. From one artist to another. 😉💜