Easy Photo Tip: Free Lenses

Free lenses. That’s right. They’re everywhere. And that’s not just my cabin fever yapping.

This week the air temperature in New York is flirting with zero. The sun takes its dear sweet time rising in January, remaining hidden until after 7 am, and skedaddles before 5 pm, leaving us less than ten hours of very unenthusiastic daylight. The trees are brown and bare, the streets are slushy gray and the grimy sky looks like it was just exhaled from a diesel bus. That clicking you hear in the distance isn’t my camera, it’s my teeth—I still haven’t had the zipper on my bomber jacket replaced, so the large expanse of my abdomen is 15 degrees colder than the rest of my body. Perfect conditions for taking pictures outside, no?


But here’s something you CAN do that’s almost like being outside. Raindrops, melting snow and other blobs of moisture that collect on windows all form lenses of a sort—single convex lenses, if you want to be fancy about it. So instead of peering hopelessly out the window at winter’s mayhem, grab your camera and explore the lenses.

The photo above was shot with a Sony RX100, a terrific little point-and-shoot that obviously focuses quite close (to about 5 cm). I didn’t use an SLR because I want you to see that you don’t have to use an SLR to perform this kind of simple magic. The droplets are snowflakes that were hitting and melting on a side window on my car.

Don’t forget that single convex lenses form images upside down, so you must either stand on your head or invert your computer monitor see them with correct orientation. Alternatively, you can flip the images in Photoshop, Corel’s Paint Shop Pro or your image editor du jour. (BTW, the lens in your eye inverts images too, but your brain fixes everything automatically. We’ll go down that road another time.)

—Jon Sienkiewicz