The Velvet World: Capturing Isolated Moments with the Velvet 56

The Velvet World: Capturing Isolated Moments with the Velvet 56

There’s always something happening in the world. Oftentimes, if you’re willing to look closely, there’s something happing nearer by than you might think. As photographers, we try to capture details and unexpected moments, showing appreciation to a beautiful and unpredictable world. But shooting with the Velvet 56 can sometimes feel like entering a different world entirely. A subject walking in a crowd, for instance, may unwittingly happen to step into your velvet world for a moment. As they are going about their business, unbeknownst to them, their likeness becomes a part of a seemingly parallel universe of luminous splendor. Within the confines of the frame, the ordinary world gets reinvented and reinterpreted, revealing a hidden potential for expression in the moments we capture.


The Velvet World

Photography as an art form is often thought of as a kind of documentary. Photographers use tricks and stylization to imprint their own vision on an image, but what sets photography apart as an art form is its ability to capture the world as it really is. When we are looking at a photograph we are expecting it to tell us about a moment in time and we trust in its authenticity. The challenge for photographers is finding ways to retain that credibility while creating images that can still excite our imaginations and inspire us to look beyond the ordinary. Though a photo is essentially a work of non-fiction, we aim to imbue it with the same qualities you might find in a poetic, fictional world.

But unlike the world of poetry, which exists elsewhere in the imagination, we are forced to work within the physical world and all of its limitations. The act of photography becomes like an archeological search, looking for evidence of that which exists in our imaginations in and amongst the real world. Photographs become a type of evidence: a proof of the existence of the things we simply cannot articulate. The things we intrinsically know are out there and yet fail to see in our ordinary lives.

This is what makes the Velvet56 such a useful tool. It straddles the line between truth and fiction. The image it produces can be ethereal and otherworldly, but rarely feels false or unreal. The world the velvet lens represents is one in-between reality and imagination.


Beyond Portraiture

Although the Velvet is typically used for portraiture and macro, I like to use it for a variety of situations. I am always looking for spontaneity in my photography, so I tend to gravitate toward situations which I am not fully in control and forced to surrender to my surroundings. The Velvet is not a conventional lens choice for this kind of photography and poses certain challenges, but it also presents a great opportunity for discovery.

When this lens is employed in street photography, landscape, nature photography, event photography, abstract/experimental photography or any other genre, it starts to challenge and change the rules of that genre. It not only introduces an element of uniqueness to each respective genre, but provides a commentary or perspective that can redefine the intent of a shot


Finding the Right Moment

To me the world of the Velvet56 is not simply about the effect produced by the lens. To me, it is like its very own world that has its own rules and conventions to go along with it. Not every subject will fit in the velvet world and not every moment will make sense inside it. Almost like its own literary genre, it demands adherence to certain principles in order to maintain congruity. In a fantasy world of elves and dragons, a spaceship would feel out of place. Or similarly, you would be unlikely to find a talking animal in a true-to-life historical fiction.

Though it would be difficult to come up with any strict parameters, my velvet world typically includes: larger than life characters, subjects of symbolic significance, absurd or surreal happenings, moments of wonder and joy, ethereal landscape or cityscape surroundings and things being illuminated or obscured by light in an interesting or unusual way. Of course there are no hard and fast rules. Discovering what does and does not belong inside the velvet world is an intuitive process and one that is always looking to expand into new territory and discover what else can be incorporated. The key is finding moments in which a subject can be isolated from their surroundings and become seamlessly transposed into the unique world the lens creates


Sony Nex-7-Velvet56-1/125-f1.6-1600

I liken the effect of the Velvet lens to a waking dream. Of course the lustrous effect of the lens is often described as dreamlike, but the effect also evokes dreams in another way. It captures the mysterious authority and ineffable significance images in dreams can take on. Dreams can leave us with impressions and feelings that are seemingly inaccessible otherwise. They can seem to hint at hidden complexities within the world and within ourselves. It’s rare to encounter anything in the real world which reproduces the effect an image from a dream can have on us; but the subtle un-reality of the velvet lens can, by suggesting the world of dreams and imagination, produce a similar kind of inscrutable resonance.

Sony Nex-7-Velvet56-1/250-f2.8-400



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Alex Stevens

Alex Stevens is a Canadian photographer whose work seeks to explore the world and find dreamlike significance in unexpected places. He sees himself as a documentarian for the imagination and seeks to use images to bridge the gap between the internal and external world.


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