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Capturing Landscapes with the Lensbaby Obscura

  • 6 min read
landscape photography camera obscura

Lensbaby Obscura 16mm | ISO | 1600 | 1/60 | Sony A7RIII

Lensbaby just launched its new Obscura lens and photographer Anne Belmont is giving us all the details about her experience with it in this post. The Obscura is redefining what it means to create photographic art and is challenging photographers to push beyond their comfort zones to explore new and creative ways to see and capture the world around them. Read on to see how Anne used Lensbaby Obscura to capture landscape photography and how it inspired her to play with lighting, push her post-processing skills, and capture captivating images that are a twist on old-world imagery.

 


This post will dive into my experience using the new Lensbaby Obscura for landscape photography, capturing the more significant scenes around us. I have broadened my definition of landscape photography to include traditional landscapes, which most often contain scenes from nature and urban landscapes.

 

Black & white photography with camera obscura

Lensbaby Obscura 16mm | ISO | 2500 | 1/400 | Sony A7RIII

You might be asking why a macro flower photographer is writing about photographing landscapes? Yes, this topic is somewhat out of my wheelhouse but, as Lensbaby always does, it pushes me out of my comfort zone, helps me see the world a little differently, and explore new ways of capturing the world at large. Of course, the landscape world is not foreign to me, as I help run landscape and urban photography conferences across the country and have many opportunities to photograph iconic destinations. I have to admit, however, that I find myself bored with capturing landscapes in more traditional ways, and I am always reaching for my Lensbaby lenses to help me see landscapes in different ways. The Obscura just opened up a whole new way of capturing a wider view of the world. As Lensbaby describes the lens, it “envelopes the photographer and lens in an elegant dance between light and dark.” This perfectly captures the essence of what I feel while photographing with this lens - a thrilling abandonment of so much we all have learned about how to photograph the world and embrace a whole new way of seeing and capturing the world.

 

About the Obscura

The Obscura comes in two versions, each with three imaging options - a 50mm version with a Pinhole, Zone Plate, and Pinhole Sieve optic for the Optic Swap System, and a stand-alone 16mm Pinhole, Zone Plate and Pinhole Sieve lens for mirrorless cameras. Because I shoot with a mirrorless, full-frame camera, I beta-tested the 16mm mirrorless version and will share my experience with that lens. With the mirrorless version, look for the settings on the front of the Obscura. The Pinhole setting is f/90, the Pinhole Sieve setting is f/45, and the Zone Plate setting is f/22. You simply reach inside the Obscura and rotate the mechanism to the desired setting with your finger.

The 16mm lens is a small pancake lens lightweight and fits in your pocket or takes up next-to-no space in your backpack. This makes it very appealing for travel. While beta testing the lens, I explored photographing garden landscapes at Chicago Botanic Garden, where I do most of my macro flower photography, and Copenhagen, Denmark, where I spent a month with family recently - two amazing places to capture larger scenes with this lens.

 

camera obscura

Lensbaby Obscura 16mm | ISO | 1600 | 1/60 | Sony A7RIII

 

What I Learned About Photographing with the Obscura

An important part of using the Obscura is making sure you start with a clean sensor. Sensor dust is amplified using this lens, particularly in the Pinhole and Pinhole Sieve setting. When I switched to a mirrorless camera, which attracted more sensor dust, I learned to clean my sensor. I heartily recommend this if you are going to use this lens. There are many videos available to help teach you how to do this with your particular camera.

When I put this lens on my camera, I realized that the scene through my viewfinder was darker than usual, and my shutter speed at lower ISOs was far too low. You can certainly use a tripod for extra stability to allow you to photograph in lower ISOs. Still, I love the ease and freedom of hand-holding this lens, so I often increased my ISO to 1600 - 2500 depending on the lighting conditions and the aperture setting I was using in the lens. I also found it helpful to use exposure compensation to increase the brightness in my viewfinder, create a brighter exposure, and see what I was photographing more clearly.

I began my exploration by shooting each scene in all three settings, starting with f/22 (Zone Plate) and ending with f/90 (Pinhole), increasing my ISO as needed with each setting. Early on, I developed a preference for the images shot with f/22 and f/45. The Zone Plate and the Pinhole Sieve settings produce a beautiful ethereal glow that is appealing to me. With the Pinhole setting, you can achieve more sharpness and clarity, but I love the sense of mystery and the interesting effects of light in the Zone Plate and Pinhole Sieve settings.

 

black & white landscape photography

Lensbaby Obscura 16mm | ISO | 100 | 1/13 | Sony A7RIII

black & white landscape photography

Lensbaby Obscura 16mm | ISO | 1250 | 1/80 | Sony A7RIII

landscape photography camera obscura

Lensbaby Obscura 16mm | ISO | 1250 | 1/15 | Sony A7RIII

The mirrorless version has no focusing mechanism on the lens. The 16mm focal length of the Obscura paired with the high apertures of the three settings means that the depth of field is large enough that a focus mechanism would not noticeably improve focus. However, not having to focus simplifies shooting.

When I began shooting with the Obscura, I learned that my most interesting and compelling landscape images were those that contained strong graphic elements, leading lines, and high contrast. The lines created by paths, trees, shadows, bridges, and lines within architectural features work well with the lens.

 

camera obscura lens

Lensbaby Obscura 16mm | ISO | 1600 | 1/60 | Sony A7RIII

Post Processing Images Taken with the Obscura

 

What I enjoy most about this lens are the bold and fun ways to experiment with post-processing with the images. This was an unexpected bonus, as I typically do very little post-processing with my Lensbaby images. The Obscura, however, provides you with an opportunity to experiment with adding more drama to the images in post-processing. I found that many of my Obscura images I preferred in black and white, pulling me back to my early years of working in a darkroom in black and white. The Obscura gave me a perfect way to explore that love more fully. Converting the images to black and white perfectly enhances the beauty of the dance between dark and light the lens captures.

In some cases, I used Lightroom to convert my images to black and white. In other cases, I might take them into Photoshop and use DXO Nik’s program Silver Efex Pro to play with different black and white filters. There is so much opportunity for playful experimentation with these images.

 


"Converting the images to black and white perfectly enhances the beauty of the dance between dark and light the lens captures."


Lensbaby Obscura 16mm | ISO | 1600 | 1/50 | Sony A7RIII

In Conclusion

The Obscura is a lens that will challenge you to see and photograph landscapes in a new way, boldly play with light and dark and perhaps push your post-processing skills to help you create mysterious, ethereal, and beautiful images that are reminiscent of an era gone by. This is not a lens to capture precisely focused landscapes but rather captures the mood and emotion of a place. It is a lens that pushes you into a more creative way of seeing and capturing the world around us.

 

 

Want your shots featured by Lensbaby?⁠
Be bold and shoot extraordinary! Make sure to tag your photos on IG with #Lensbaby, #ShootExtraordinary, and let us know what gear you’re using. 📸 ⁠

 


Anne Belmont

As a nature photographer specializing in flower photography, Anne’s greatest passion lies in seeing and capturing the beauty of flowers and botanicals up-close. However, the small, often unnoticed details draw Anne to her subjects – the lines, patterns, textures, curves, and unique personality of each subject. She believes that if we slow down and look at nature more contemplatively, we will find subjects that convey impact and emotion.


With a lifelong involvement in the arts and a deep love of nature that started in childhood, photography became a perfect way for Anne to share her vision of the natural world with others. She has been photographing since she was given her first camera at the age of ten. Her career as an art therapist reinforced her belief in the healing power of both art and nature. Anne’s goal as an educator is to help others see in new ways, unleash their creativity, and bring their heart into their photography. She is firmly committed to the idea that we should never stop learning, growing, experimenting, and having fun with photography.
 
 
Website
Anne Belmont photographer

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