Lensbaby goes to Chester

Clock, Chester

I find myself very lacking in inspiration right now, both in photography and in what to write about – the last one, at least, is unusual for me.  I feel a kind of flatness that I think is a combination of post-assessment deflation and the horrible grey light and brown colours we’re faced with this time of year.  I usually find I hit a low spot with photography around now, so that’s not unexpected, and it’s not so much I can’t think of anything to write about, but more that everything I’d like to write about is far removed from photography and this doesn’t seem like quite the right place.

Next weekend I’m doing some private tuition in London for someone who wants to learn how to use the Lensbaby Composer lens.  For anyone not in the know about this, it’s a kind of bendy lens that gives you a blurred effect with one sharp area in it – you can bend the lens around to move the sharp bit wherever you want to in the image.  That’s the theory anyway – in practice it’s quite hard to get it where you want it, and for anyone who hasn’t come across one of these lenses before, it’s best to bear in mind that ‘sharp’ is a relative term here.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve used mine. Some people reading this will know that I did my first Landscape assignment using this lens, only to be torn apart for it by the tutor I had at the time.  It put me off a bit.  I certainly didn’t feel like chancing it for another assignment, and the whole episode just took the fun out of it for me.  (And it is a fun lens.)  There’s also a bit of me that recognises that some of what my tutor said was undoubtedly right – it is easy to overdo the effect, and it’s easy to rely on it to make something interesting out of something that wouldn’t be, otherwise.  I can see that, and I suppose I was waiting to find some little project that it would be absolutely right for, but that project has never made itself obvious.

Anyway, it was time it had an outing, if only to convince myself that I still remembered how to use it, so when the sun came out yesterday I headed for Chester to give it an airing.  I didn’t get much time in the end – I was late leaving, and then I had to pick up a birthday card for someone, and then there was a gallery I wanted to check out, and then I was hungry so I had to go and get some lunch, and so it was late in the day by the time I managed to get my camera out.  I decided to walk along the City walls, down to the riverside, and see what I could find.

I started with the obvious – the fantastically ornate clock that sits right in the middle of Chester.  Then I went up on to the walls and, looking down from where the clock is, I got this cyclist.  In terms of getting the focus sharp, this was probably my most successful shot of the day.  I need some new glasses and I was really struggling to see whether or not I’d got things in focus – the Lensbaby requires manual focussing at all times, and I’m used to relying on Autofocus.  It was more luck than judgement, but I do like the way the cyclist has come out really clear, with everything around him a soft blur.

Cyclist, Chester

Of course, once I got home I remembered that I should have adjusted the dioptre in my viewfinder to fit my deteriorating eyesight.  This is something you only have to do once, or at least until your eyesight gets worse or you get new glasses or something, and I simply forgot about it.  This morning I did the adjustment and found that it was quite far out, which accounts for why most of my shots are nothing like as sharp as I’d like them to be – well that’s what I’m saying anyway 🙂  Here are some of the more successful ones.

Chester City walls, clockAnother view of the clock, this time from on top of the walls

City walls, ChesterUp on top of Chester’s City Walls

Dog walker, ChesterA dog walker by the riverside, seen looking down from the Walls

Lamppost ChesterAnother view from the Walls

Riverside, ChesterAnd another one…..

Red boat, River Dee, ChesterThe River Dee, from ground level this time

Railings, River Dee, ChesterEvery set of steps leading down to the river has these wonderful curvy railings each side

Water abstract, River Dee, ChesterPlaying now……not sure if the Lensbaby helps or hinders when it comes to this sort of thing, but the colours were too good to resist

Christine, The Groves, ChesterChristine

The last image has a story. I saw this woman standing by one of the benches, lifting her face up to enjoy the sun, and just had to get a shot of her.  Being my usual self-conscious and rather wussy self when it comes to photographing people, I sneaked it rather hastily – it did help that she had her eyes shut.  I moved on, and was further along the riverside fiddling with my lens when someone came up to me and commented on it being a great day for photography.  Of course it was her.  It was sheer coincidence – she hadn’t seen me – and we had a good fifteen minutes of conversation during which we found that we had rather a lot in common.  Her name is Christine, and next week we’re planning to meet for coffee!  Strange how these things happen.

Returning to the Lensbaby, I’ve been doing some thinking about the kind of photography that suits it best.  I think I like it best for people photography, whether that’s portraits or street stuff.  It really focusses attention on the person/people and the surrounding blur is an effective foil.  It’s not the easiest lens to use for street photography, everything having to be done manually and all, but I like the effect a lot.  Where I don’t think it works so well is with abstract photography.  Most of the time, there’s enough ambiguity about what you’re seeing to make the added blur a bit excessive, but I’m sure there are some exceptions to this.

I do love it for macro, although I didn’t do any the other day, because it brings out the most wonderful colours in things.  I also have the zone plate/pinhole attachment for it and I meant to try out the zone plate, but I never got round to that.  I’ve tried it once or twice before and find it very difficult to know what it’s good for.  I bought the attachment for its pinhole capabilities but I’m rather ashamed to say I’ve never used it because it necessarily involves the dreaded tripod.  The zone plate was a new one on me and I hadn’t heard of it before.  Most people haven’t, so if you want to see what it does, follow this link and click Zone Plate on the Optic drop down menu towards the top right – http://lensbaby.co.uk/gallery-photos My Sunday student doesn’t have this attachment, so maybe we’ll spend some time playing with it……..