Creative use of depth of field is also something that’s very useful when using a macro lens, especially up close. Macro lenses are often made to have very small minimum apertures, such as f/32, so that photographers can maximise depth of field to ensure everything is as sharp as it can be – such as in this shot of some earrings.
But why not try a macro lens wide open instead, so that there is a central area of sharpness then the subject blurs out around it. It can give a very different look this way
When it comes to really controlling depth of field, then nothing comes close to a Perspective Correction lens – often called a Tilt/ Shift lens. These lenses allow the optics to be moved relative to the film plane by using a series of knobs and dials. These technical lenses are used for some very specific results – such as shifting the front of the lens upwards instead of tilting the camera upwards to get the tops of buildings in. This allows buildings to still appear straight, rather than be tilting backwards
They also allow the depth of field to be maximised by tilting the front of the lens downwards. This extends the depth of field hugely, ideal for landscape photography where great front-to-back sharpness is required, or for product shots where the whole of the product needs to be pin sharp. But it doesn’t have to be this way!
Instead of titling down to maximise depth of field, by titling up, or by changing the angle of the lens, then the depth of field can be made to be very small and also in a plane that’s not parallel to the camera. This leads to some very unusual perspective and distinctly odd patterns of sharpness – ideal for a creative shot. This unique look is often used from a high viewpoint and creates the effect that you are looking at a scale model rather than real life! Of course, this sort of effect can be approximated in Photoshop, but the results aren’t exactly the same as doing it for real in camera.
Using real tilt/shift lenses for effects like these means the sharp parts of the image really can be very sharp – depending on the quality of lens and aperture set. But if it’s the tilt/ shift effect you like and you really don’t need anything that’s critically sharp, then there are fun lenses such as the Lensbaby range that can open up a world of creative blur. At a whole range of prices offering more or less controllability and either cheap plastic or superior glass lenses, the Lensbaby range offers something for any keen photographer to flex their creative muscles. Control is basic – ranging from changing aperture using magnetic rings to manually holding the lens in place with your fingers. But the results can be fun and unique.
Lensbaby may have started the revolution for weird, wacky and fun lenses, but in recent years it’s been toy camera maker Lomo that has branched out into some funky lenses that can give a unique look to your shots. One such lens is the Lomo Minitar 32mm, a tiny pancake-style lens that fits onto a Leica M fitting or lots of other cameras via an adapter. Using Russian glass and a design from the Lomo toy camera, the Minitar offers a sharp central area that quickly falls off into a softer area of focus, and a significanrt vignetting at the edge iof the frame. And there can be a big area of coloured fringing on the edge of the frame too, although it can very on each individual lens. It’s a cool, retro-style toy camera look that can be fun and different
Changing the aperture on the Lomo gives a different look to the out of focus areas, which many call bokeh. And for fans of very unique bokeh, then Lomography have also started to offer a remade version of the classic Petzval lens. A turn-of-the-century classic made to fit modern cameras, the all-brass Petzval lens has different metal plates inserted to change aperture. But many shoot it wide open at f/2.2 in order to capitalise on the lens’ totally unique swirly bokeh. Best used with out of focus highlights, the only sharp part of the frame is right in the middle then the areas behind just swirl into a stunning and unique background that you can’t fake in Photoshop!
With lots of old lenses on the market that can be fitted to modern cameras, and lots of current lenses that can be used in unusual ways, there is no excuse! Try something new and push your creativity.