Nuno Caldeira is a photographer, geographer and music-lover living on the beautiful Portuguese island of Madeira. He is a self-described Lensbaby addict and shoots primarily with Lensbaby lenses on his photo excursions. You can see more of Nuno’s work here and here.
Where did you first learn about Lensbaby? What was your first Lensbaby lens, and what lens or optic is currently your favorite?
I was searching online for a Holga/Lomo type of lens for my DSLR, and ended up coming across the Plastic Optic and that lead me to the Muse. All the squeezing, selecting focus and the Creative Apertures left me curious since at the time I’d never seen anything like them. So I bought the Muse with the Double Glass Optic to try it out and a few weeks later I got the Composer and some other optics. The addiction to Lensbaby has continued ever since. The combo that is always on my camera is a Composer with the Edge 80 Optic. The Edge 80 is such a versatile optic, you can get a standard lens look with the optic straight forward, a slice of focus with it tilted and even get close focus. It’s like the Swiss Army knife of Lensbaby lenses. Plus, there’s the outstanding perfectly round bokeh that it creates.
What are your favorite Lensbaby images?
The image above was taken from 1800 meters up, because I was trying to get a miniature effect on the mountains with the focus on the hikers that were passing by the hike path with their colorful clothing.
In this image, the slice of focus follows the costal line/port into the the heart of the city of Funchal. I shot this at f/4, which created the bokeh in the out of focus areas.
Please take us through your process of shooting miniature-style images.
I live in Madeira Island, Portugal, and the island is quite small (roughly measures 56 kms/34.8 mi by 22 kms/13.6 mi, but you can get as high as 1800 meters/5906 feet in the mountains), so it has brutal reliefs in the landscape, with a lot of valleys with villages in between. Those extreme distances allow you shoot miniature-style photos with the Edge 80 Optic. I would say that ninety percent of my miniatures are shot from above. Shooting from a lower point into a vertical view is possible, but more tricky to pull off.
So keeping that in mind, scout your area for possible shooting points, mountains or tall buildings, and try to shoot from a minimum of 100 meters/328 feet, up to 900 meters/2953 feet from the subject that you will focus on. If you have a full frame sensor, you don’t need to be quite as far away. I personally have a crop sensor camera so the focal length of the Edge 80 is changed by a multiple of 1.6 to an effective 128mm focal length.
I shoot in Manual mode and most of the time I use the live view feature on my camera along with the histogram and Magic Lantern firmware (which includes features like focus confirmation & zoom within live view). The main reason to shoot in live view is not only because it makes it easier to see the slice of focus and make sure it’s nice and sharp, but also to make sure the exposure is correct (when the Edge 80 is tilted it moves the circle of light on your sensor and the light meter is not always accurate). Composition is also important. Try to avoid a solid colored uniform landscape (like sea or sky) in more than a third of the photo or else the diorama illusion won’t work properly.
Pick the subject (houses, road, people, etc.) that you want to focus on, select the direction you’d like the slice to go (by tilting the lens and rotating the focus ring). Generally, horizontal and diagonal slices work better in miniature shots, but don’t make this a rule. The slice of focus placement is best if the compositional rule of thirds is applied, so try not to let the slice get too close to the edge of the image. The best apertures on Edge 80 to use for the miniature effect are f/2.8, 4 and 5.6. Keep in mind that the aperture chosen will affect the thickness of slice of focus, so a smaller aperture means a thinner slice of focus. I usually shoot at f/2.8 or 4.
Take the shot, review and try out different slices directions. Make slight changes with your tilt and aperture to make sure you get the best shot possible.
Any tips for photographers new to Lensbaby, manual focus, etc?
Lensbaby has a learning curve, but with practice and once you understand the basics of shooting with Lensbaby, it becomes second nature. And it’s just fun to shoot with (and you will learn to get used to people coming up and asking you what type of lens you have on your camera and explaining how it works!)
If you don’t feel comfortable enough with a certain optic, challenge yourself and use it a lot, for an entire day, until you understand how it suits your photography and get to know it better. No optic is better than any other, it just depends on what you want. All optics have different characteristics. Be creative, experiment (for example if you’re taking night shots with the Edge 80, at for example a 5 second exposure, on the last second either rotate the focus ring or extend the front part to achieve a double exposure feeling with soft bokeh). Don’t be afraid to try wacky stuff, just bend the rules!