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Unexpected Still Life Photography with Lensbaby Velvet 28

  • 4 min read

Unexpected Still Life Fun with Lensbaby Velvet 28

Presented with the opportunity to test out the new Lensbaby Velvet 28 in the dark, cold winter of Buffalo, New York, professional photographer & educator Gerri Jones got creative - inside.

I decided to revive a series shoot I did many years ago with some wine glasses and refracted designs with reflections. At that time, I had a much bigger monitor for my computer. I had used a piece of black Plexiglas propped up in front of my computer screen and projected some of my abstract backgrounds behind the glassware.

My screen is much smaller now and I knew trying that would not work for the set-ups I was thinking of trying. I began brainstorming and thought, why can’t I try using my large flat screen TV and display the backgrounds there. I uploaded several backgrounds – some were mine that I created in Photoshop and others were free backgrounds I obtained through internet searches – I uploaded my backgrounds on a jumpdrive and plugged it into the USB port on my TV.   The idea here is that the backgrounds are backlit by the monitor when images are taken in the dark.  

My set up was basically a simple hack…I had to place a small table in front of my TV screen and use whatever I could find to match up a surface level with my TV screen, and place my black piece Plexiglas on top of that. When I say this was not a professional set up, I mean I used a cardboard box on top of my table and several books piled up to achieve a surface high enough to match up to the level of my TV screen for the background to project my set up. Don’t let a little thing like not having a proper photo studio stop you! I used a piece of 24" by 24" Plexi glass. You can find black Plexi online and it is handy for other photo projects, where you want a clean reflection of your subject. Some people use clear glass with a black surface placed under the glass, but your reflection will not be as clean and you will most likely get some “ghosting” or a double edge reflection.  

When you are shooting a set up with subjects like this, your angle becomes paramount to getting a good reflection. You need to be low enough in your angle to see the reflection, yet high enough to get a good composition to shoot your subject (in this case glasses filled with water) so that they reflect the background straight on, instead of any angles from left or right. Converging angles come into play and this is where your focal length plays a part as well.

To achieve the bright backlit refractions in the glasses are a couple of simple things:

  1. Fill the glasses up with water. Be aware when you fill the glasses up using tap water, you are going to get bubbles clinging to the sides of your glasses, which you don’t want for clean reflections. I learned the hard way there is a simple fix. You can let the glasses sit for a day or two till the bubbles disappear (the bubbles come from the air in your water lines) – or better yet, use bottled water. I ended up using water from my refrigerator water dispenser - no bubbles.
  2. You need to take your images in the dark so that there is no ambient light. The only light will be your monitor displaying your chosen backgrounds behind your set up. You will need to use a tripod to do this in the dark. Because it can be difficult to manually focus in the dark (I did manage to do it, but not easy at wider apertures) it works best if you have live view on your camera. You can focus with live view and then turn it off for the exposure. If you want to cycle through apertures for a different effect and more or less glow, then just move your aperture dial (you can easily do that in the dark being careful not to move the focus ring)…then adjust your shutter speed to account for more or less light at your chosen aperture.

I was really excited to try the Velvet 28 for this project. I love the unique Velvet glow that these lenses put on your subjects, but to be honest I had never considered doing any type of graphic indoor imagery with this lens – then I thought – Why Not?! I had already tried the lens on some architectural shots of our Grand Island Bridge and I loved them. This lens imparts the lovely velvet glow and like other Velvets, the wider open you place your aperture, the more glow is apparent – and this lens also has a + indicator past the wide setting of f-2.5, which adds 1/3 stop more effect/light. I had a lot of fun experimenting with this type of imagery using the new Velvet 28. I think combining the glow in this lens and graphic details of my subjects, gave a really unique appeal to these images that is unexpected. I really feel that lensbabies allow me to think outside the box – they make photography fun.

This Series Below was taken with a succession of F- Stops for comparison.

Check out more of Gerri Jones' Work

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