Free-Lensing Photography Tutorial

Free lensing 1Recently, I visited my dear friend Sarah of Arrow and Apple Photography for a few days. We had a few photo adventures together and she shared a super fun technique with me that I invited her to share with you on the blog too! Enjoy…

Free-lensing is a fun technique to try if you have a camera with a removable lens! It’s a method of shooting with your lens detached from the camera- but still held very closely. Holding your lens up to the camera (instead of attaching it) allows you to create a tilt-shift effect in your photos. With a LOT of practice, you can even learn how to selectively focus on one thing, while everything else becomes blurred! But don’t be discouraged if you feel like nothing is focusing how you would like at first. It really takes a lot of practice. Practice photographing objects around your house before you try this on people! It’s much harder to focus when your subject is a moving object.

Free lensing 2Note: Before you get started, you have to know that as soon as you take the lens off of your camera and use it, there is a chance that dust can get into your camera. Please don’t try this if the thought makes you uncomfortable! However, if you’re not in a dusty area, you shouldn’t have much cause for concern at all. When I free-lens, I hold my lens close to my camera body, and I try to use my hand to cup around the lens so as to shield the camera from bringing in dust, and from preventing too much light leak.

Free lensing 3If you’d like to try it, here are a few tips!

1. Select your lens. Free-lensing isn’t as effective with a wide-angle lens, because it’s MUCH harder to get anything in focus! If you have several lenses to choose from, I would start with a 50mm or higher. If you have a zoom lens that came with your camera, you might want to make sure the lens is zoomed in to at least a 50mm range, if possible.
2. Before you detach your lens from your camera, set your exposure. Auto-exposure won’t work correctly if your lens isn’t connected to your camera.
3. Take off your lens, hold it very closely to your camera, and move it around a little! You get some really beautiful effects the more angles you try to hold it at. For instance, if the left side of your lens is touching your camera still, angle it so that the right side of your lens is pulled away from the camera. Try taking a few photos, and see how you like them! It’s pretty exciting, right? (NOTE: Nikon users will need to set their camera to manual mode before removing the lens)
4. Practice! Practice, practice, I can’t overemphasize this: Practice! This might not be something you will pick up right away, but if you love the effect, then it’s definitely worth the time to shoot 100 photos before you like one. 🙂
5. Set the focus ring to “infinity” before you take your lens off.

Here are a few examples of photos that Sarah took with this free-lensing technique…

Free-lensing 4Free-lensing 4Free-lensing 4Free-lensing 4Free-lensing 4Thank you, Sarah, for sharing this lovely technique! xo. elsie

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  • So going to practice this! I have a project coming up and could really use a technique like this.

  • I’m having some trouble with this. It looks awesome and I really want to do it but when I try my pictures don’t seem to be coming out. They just look dark and fuzzy, with nothing really look in or out of focus. I have a Nikon D300, please help! This seems like such a fun trick and I would love to try!

  • I’m having some trouble with this. It looks awesome and I really want to do it but when I try my pictures don’t seem to be coming out. They just look dark and fuzzy, with nothing really look in or out of focus. I have a Nikon D300, please help! This seems like such a fun trick and I would love to try!

  • This is amazing! I can’t beleive I have never heard of this technique before but can’t wait to try it out. Thank you for the tutorial and great pictures.

  • this is really neat! i’m so happy i stumbled across this and can’t wait to try it out this weekend.

  • Thankyou so much for this tutorial, never heard of the technique before and im so glad i do now as i love the look of tilt-shift but large format film is so expensive!
    here are my first examples… 🙂 thankyou again!

  • that is fantastic!! it makes the images beautiful. will definitely trying it out soon xo

    The Young Bridget Jones

  • Parabéns pelo lindo blog e as excelentes fotos.


  • I’m revisiting this after ordering my very own Canon Rebel XTi; I really want to try this after I get the hang of it. I love the artistic focusing on these photos. Not overdone at all, but just a nice touch. 🙂

  • This is such a nifty idea! I just found this blog through instagram and I’m thrilled. Do you mind me asking what you use to edit, if anything?
    Keep it up ladies! xoxo

  • I tried free-lensing but I sucked at it haha I did get some good images but most of them were rubbish and I felt there must be something else – an easier way…

    I found it! Its called LENSBABY and I love it! I bought a Composer Pro with an edge 80 optic plus sweet 35 and double glass. I’ve been experimenting with it a full month now and I LOVE it!! Now I’m dying to get the single glass, pinhole and plastic optic as well! Its so fun! Its like having a toy camera lens on your dslr!

    I hope you’re reading this and you’re going to take a look at it because I can imagine you having as much fun with it as I’m having 🙂

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  • This is awesome, so glad I found it. I tried today and am really happy with the outcome 🙂 Even if I did manage to drop my lens in some cat poop!

  • Hi to all, how is the whole thing, I think every one is getting more from this web page.

  • Love! Love! Love!
    Imeediatly got my camera and my 50mm lens and gave it a go – I need to practice though, as you said 🙂

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  • Matt Harris – I would make you a cd mixed with country, ctrashiin, and easy listening songs. Songs that I know you would will like and maybe a few that you have never heard of before that could be new favorites. I would also give you my best smile, meaning I would gladly come for a session to model for you. But of course I wouldn’t want pictures of just me, but with a female subject as well. I know some girls that could easily be models and I’m sure you do too. So, you would be matching a female with me based on your selection of the setting of the shoot, props, and wardrobe for the best possible look for your picture. There is no doubt this would be a fun project for you that would showcase how talented and kreative you are! Happy Birthday!January 28, 2011 10:04 AM

  • Rebecca Baker – Kristian!I remember rdaeing that your true love (aside from Cody, of course) is SHOES! Mine too. I just love a new pair of heels. I remember seeing a picture of you, I believe on your website, of you in some hot pink heels. I just loved them. I think a great pair of shoes is the perfect accessory to any outfit. So, for your wonderful birthday, I would give you a whole closet full of them! All kinds, ranging from atheletic (nike free’s, my fav), to cowboy boots (an essential for any southern belle), to high heels, to wedges (adorable with jeans), to ballet flats (tory burch, my fav). I would have all different colors to match your wonderful outfits, so you can dress to the nine’s during your shoots. Nothing is more fun than going out on the town with a new pair of kicks Then I would also give you some sweet time with your family. You could take a much needed vacation away from work & life, and just relax with Cody & your family. If it were a real cruise (cross my fingers, yes) I would give you a cruise with all of your favorite country artists performing on it, all week. Sidebar, okay I would LOVE to go on that cruise. Especially if Jason Aldean was singing. So in conclusion, I would give you a closet full of you favorite things (shoes) and a much deserved vacation away with your family. I hope you have an amazing birthday, you are very special in so many ways, and you deserve all that you will recieve on Friday. God bless you, may you grow in Him this year.RebeccaJanuary 24, 2011 4:32 PM

  • I love the Pentax 6X7 and owned on in the early 80 s. It was a wonderful carema to take to the park or use it for street photography. I almost ordered a used one this morning for nostalgia. The shutter was the Achilles’ heel for the 6X7. The rubberized curtain would start leaving a rubbery power residue in the lower channel. You can lock the shutter open in B and then use a couple short burst of Dust-off to try to clean the channel, but not too long of a burst or too many at a time.

  • Try to use fully manual conrotl and conrotl the film simulation nicely u will got almost same result with Fuji analog film output for me it’s normal bnw photo composition as per usual .coz u r guru he..he..

  • Danke dafür, dass die vertrauenswürdige Versuch, eine Erklärung dafür zu geben. Ich fühle mich sehr robuste es rund und möchten mehr informiert werden. Wenn es OK ist, wie Sie extra intensiv Weisheit zu erlangen, könnte man Gedanken das Hinzufügen zusätzlicher Beiträge ganz ähnlich wie diese mit weiteren Informationen? Es könnte sein, außerordentlich hilfreich und nützlich für mich und meine Kollegen.

  • Es gibt verschiedene Posten in der Nähe von Existenz, so meine ich es unter Verweis könnten diese vor Ort oder den Artikel wirklich informatives Erlebnis. Praktische Zielausdruck Dieser Beitrag ist schlechte Qualität. Einfach ich aussprechen kann die Tatsache, dass hier zur Verfügung gestellten Informationen einzigartig war, nur um wirklich machen es nahezu vollständige, mit Unterstützung ehemaliger Informationen werden schon wirklich gut zu werden. Die Punkte, die Sie berührt haben hier aufgelistet sind von entscheidender Bedeutung, so möchte ich erkennen viele der Informationen, hier zu bauen das eigentlich ganz toll für die Anfänger ist hier. Vielen Dank für diese Informationen. Eigentlich hilfreich!

  • About the ‘no lens attached’ issue: Some cameras have a menu item called ‘shoot without lens’ which has to be enabled when attaching an older, non-motorized lens to a newer digital body. This can be used for freelensing as well.


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  • This. Is. AWESOME!!!!! Thank you so very much. Toodles. Must go try. A gazillion Thank Yous!

  • These are amazing!! I’ve done this by turning the lens completely around. It turns the photo into a macro shot, but I’ve never kept it the same direction. Will have to try soon!

  • This is so cool! Just tried it with my Nikon but it won’t shoot without a lens attached! Going to try to find a way around it… Thanks guys!

  • Wow, this is great! I’ve been playing around with it a bit today with not much luck, but I’m persistent. I love the photos you got trying this.

  • I REALLY want to do this now!!!


  • I love the photography posts you do. I have no skills at all and try out all the things you try to teach us fellow blog readers. And honestly my photos are getting better. Thank you.

  • I tried this last night and my Nikon D3100 does not allow this to be done without the lens 🙁

  • I love your style! You seem to have a very artistic idea. Keep it up!

  • This is really cool! What a great technique. Thank you for posting!

  • Love this!! Can’t wait to try it out.

    Steph at

  • Great and informative post! 🙂
    I don’t have a camera with a removable lens yet, but bookmarking this post for when I do have one…

  • I met Sarah this weekend at the az blogger meet up. She was so nice and extremely talented! Can’t wait to go to one of her workshops!

  • It’s also fun (but sometimes scary) to free lens by turning your lens backwards so that the actual lens lines up with the camera body… it makes for a SUPER macro effect (it looks awesome on eyes!)

  • Wow – I’d never heard of free lensing before! Thanks for sharing about it 🙂

  • great tutorial!
    I tried free lensing today and I absolutely love it!
    I also posted some pictures
    I would be so happy if you’d check it out and tell me your opinion on it 🙂

  • WOW this is lovely!


  • Really interesting, will try it soon! The photos look great 🙂

  • This is awesome. Thanks for the idea & tutorial, it’s definitely something I’ll have to try!

  • Nikon users! If you’d like to try free-lensing, you have to put your camera in manual mode first, so your camera doesn’t try to communicate with your lens.

    Also for those asking, free-lensing WILL work with film cameras! If you have the option of practicing first on digital, I would definitely recommend you try that before using on your film camera. 🙂

  • Goes to show that you learn something new everyday!Lensbaby makes a lens that does this; I bought it and love it… but if I would have known that I could do it with my pre-existing lenses I would have! Thanks for this technique! Very awesome!

  • I’ve always wanted to do this with my DSLR…

    THANK YOU so much for this technique!
    I’m so excited that I’ve already tried it!!!
    I even made a post about it here:

    🙂 You made me happy today*

  • Thanks for this tutorial!
    I tried this technique for the first time today, and I love it!
    I took some photos of a flowered tree.
    I would be so happy if you can check them out and tell me if you like them or not 🙂

  • I have yet to try this! Definitely will be doing some experimentation.

  • Love, love, love this. I’m definitely trying it this weekend!! I think I even have the same camera shown, so I hope they come out half as cute. xoxo

  • I had no idea you could do this! I may the only guy on here:)Going home for lunch to try this out!

  • I have been doing this for a while now, but this rejuvenated my interest! It is scary to possibly get dust into the sensor, but I have not had this happen yet and I’ve been doing it for over a year. Great post!

  • I really like trying new techniques. The randomness the focus has in each picture is really cool 🙂 xo

  • This looks like a really fun technique, I can’t wait to try this out even though it makes me a little nervous! haha

  • Awesome pictures, just got my camera and I wanted to try it. But my Nikon doesn’t “allow” me to take pictures without a lens. Any idea how to solve this ? 🙂

  • this is good, just make sure there is no wind to blow particles and nasty bits into your lens.

  • wow. what a cool technique! i’m going to have to experiment with this. thanks!

  • super cool! wish i had a good camera to try it out! ill have to bookmark this for later!

  • This is amazing! I never would have thought to do this! Thanks for the tips 🙂

  • I just did it! I get some beautiful light leaking photo’s but I dont get the anything like the photo’s you showed us here 😉 I’ll practice more with it, loved to do it!

  • Such a great technique! Somewhen, I’ll try it.

  • Very nice tips and beautiful pics! Thanks

  • Fascinating. I’m always amazed at how many ways there are to photograph things. I really look forward to your book.

  • Wow I never thought of this before! I’m going to try it later 🙂 xxx

  • wow definitely going to give this a try. You’re blog is just so inspiring. I’ve said it many a time but I’m sure one can never hear it enough. 🙂

  • This is a very interesting technique! Now that I’ve seen this I’m dying to give it a go, but it might have to wait for when I visit a less dusty place – rural Australia can get pretty damn dusty! The results are beautiful though.

  • seriously love this photography tutorial. Is better to make a youtube video for this type of tutorial. I would glad to see more closely. I’m not sure if you will our comment. Anyway, it was am awesome tutorial!

  • I like this method and the shots look really great, but I was wondering if you tried this with film, it’d just expose your film pretty much, right? Didn’t see that mentioned & was thinking how it’d react to the light…

    (ps love the blog! =) )

  • this is pretty awesome.
    i can’t wait to try.
    i remember trying through the viewfinder and other ways to get your pictures to look different.
    thank you!

  • always looking for cool ways to improve and experiment with my photography… so thanks so much for the great tutorial!!

    ardena rose

  • very interesting! hopefully will give it a crack! thanks! gorgeous photos too btw!

  • I have never heard of this but worry as I have a Nikon D3100 I will have the same issue as Jenny with her D3000. I will try this tonight and see. Thanks for the tip!

  • That sound like fun! I haven’t tried it before but cant wait to.


  • Amazing! I never knew you could do this. In fact I thought turning the camera on with a lens removed could damage it! I’m so keen to give this a go, I love the medium format effect!

  • good morning,

    wow… what great and wonderful photos!!!!!!!!
    thanks for sharing your tutorial 🙂

    with best wishes


  • This is so cool! Love the effects. And the portrait pictures are wonderful!

  • Beautiful! Thanks for sharing the tip. 🙂 I’m going to try this.

  • I love free lensing! Also be sure to take your time with it. I know when I’m shooting models, sometimes I get flustered when I’m taking a while to get the focus right, so you just have to use patience and not fret. Focus on the eyes too, as that is the most important aspect of (most) portrait photos. As always it’s just trial and error, and even still I get unfocused photos, but the more your practice the more comfortable you get, and that’s the important part.

  • Thanks for the tutorial! I’ve always wanted to try this! x

  • I love when you guys teach me about photography – favorite lessons!


  • awesome tutorial!

    thank you so much,

    i’m going to try it this week!

  • Really interesting! Thanks for the advice.

    xO, vicky

  • The Photos look great! I have to try this technique out very soon
    Thanks your this tutorial!

  • How fun! I had never even heard of this technique before, thanks for the tutorial!

    – Angela Marie @

  • Thanks for this post guys.
    And for pushing us to try new things with our photographs. 🙂


  • Are there some cameras that this won’t work with? I have a Nikon D3000, and I can’t find a way around the “no lens is attached” issue… I will try with my film camera too, this looks awesome. I really hope I can get it to work! Thanks!

  • great post,i tried and some worked out ok but definately needs heaps of practise!

  • Had some trouble leaving a comment!! I just wanted to say I am a little excited about trying this. I just tried a technique where you hold up the lens backwards to the camera to get close ups.

  • Woah…such an awesome idea that I had never heard of. Totally trying this out soon! 🙂

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