Easy Photo Tip: Using a Lensbaby to Capture Fall Leaves and Holiday Lights

©Jon Sienkiewicz. Photo with Lensbaby Spark.

Many, many years ago a coworker at Altman Camera in Chicago showed me that it was possible to screw a Vivitar +10 Macro Adapter into a partially disassembled set of Nikon K-series extension rings and thereby build a soft focus lens that practically exploded with delightfully horrendous aberrations.

It was fixed-focus, you had to bob to-and-fro like a drunken sailor to use it, but it was sensationally unsharp and I’ve been hooked on this genre ever since. That contraption was in some ways similar to the original Lensbaby products, only not nearly as clever or useable.

©Jon Sienkiewicz. Photo with Lensbaby Spark.

©Jon Sienkiewicz. Photo with Lensbaby Spark.

It requires a special vision to detect things that will look great when they are out-of-focus. But that’s only one reason why I enjoy Lensbaby products so much. The biggest reason—and this may be of interest to those of you who are debating whether to not to sell that old DSLR through an online auction—is that even my oldest Nikon and Canon DSLRs enjoy a new, useful life when a Lensbaby is attached.

Think about the things that make an old camera undesirable. Low resolution, noisy data files and slow autofocus don’t mean beans when using a Lensbaby. Those things are no longer disadvantages. So I can saddle up my Nikon D70s or my Canon D60 or any of my aging Olympus E-series cameras and have a blast.

For the fall color foliage season as well as the bright, colorful lights of the holiday season, I prefer a Lensbaby Spark. It’s the least expensive model at $89, and it takes only a minute to learn how to use. The lens element is attached to a short flexible tube and the lens is focused by manually pulling the front closer to the camera body, or by pushing it slightly away. It’s super lightweight and takes a beating—so if it’s not on my camera it’s in my pocket.


I also enjoy using the Lensbaby Velvet 56. It’s a complete, manual focus 56mm f/1.6 lens that doubles as a 1:2 Macro lens. Sharpness (and lack thereof) is controlled by adjusting the aperture diaphragm.

Wide open it’s very soft, but stopped down it becomes tack sharp. It’s great for portraits—it becomes a approximately a 90mm portrait lens when used on a crop-frame DSLR.

©Jon Sienkiewicz. Photo with Lensbaby Spark.

The Lensbaby Composer Pro (or Composer Pro II) is no doubt more versatile because you can easily swap elements and try a wide variety of effects. But if I had to limit my choices, I’d definitely go with the Spark and the Velvet 56.

—Jon Sienkiewicz