Lensbaby's Camera Obscura doesn't play by any rules and photographers are encouraged to use the Obscura technique to step out of their comfort zones, throw any preconceived notions out the door, and use their creativity to create captivating images. Magdalena Stolte was up for the challenge and in this blog she is detailing her journey using the Camera Obscura lens to capture gorgeous self-portraits. Whether you're interested in taking indoor or environmental portraits, Magdalena is sharing her findings on the best tips for any self-portraits using Camera Obscura.
What if I told you I could make self-portraits easier for you by cutting out a significant component that many people struggle with when taking portraits- focus. That's right; there is no focus ring on this lens! Because the lens is a wide-angle and at the high apertures- essentially everything in the frame is in focus. Just worry about the exposure and composition! My self-portrait journey with this lens was not like shooting with any other camera or lens. It took some getting used to, but I believe that to be true for any Lensbaby lens. But then, I always fall in love- and this was no different. I enjoyed taking self-portraits surrounded by nature when finding different pockets of light indoors and using flash indoors.
I quickly noticed and immediately loved the lens flares that the Obscura creates when shooting directly into the sun. One evening, I wore a long pink dress and waited for the sun to get lower in the sky. I noticed that if I positioned the camera on a tripod at a certain angle, I got these gorgeous pink flares on the two corners and rainbow flares in the middle. I knew that this would not last too long as the sun was setting, so I got in position by the bushes in my backyard, where I would be on the camera right side, one-third of the way in. My settings had to account for the light being so low, so I had to slow down my shutter speed way low to .4 seconds. I had to stand still. I brought out the flare colors in post-processing by lowering the highlights, and I Increased the shadows.
My favorite thing is that it's so easy to create environmental portraits with this wide-angle lens. You don't have to stand far away for you to look small and portray the feeling of being a part of nature. I headed into a path with trees all around, wearing a contrasting white dress so that it would stand out with all the greens. I set my camera onto a tripod at the path's opening and positioned myself on the side, a little bit behind some branches. I wanted to be surrounded by nature. I'll admit, I did not clean my sensor well before this shoot, and it shows. Because the aperture is so high, all of the tiny dust on the sensor showed. I removed some of them in post-processing but left in some. I think they add to the vintage feel of the photo.
As I took my self-portraits in the path, my daughter saw me and dressed in a matching dress. We then had an impromptu dance party in the grass, so I used that as an opportunity to get a photo with her. I set my tripod up and composed the scene with some overhead leaves to frame us. I knew that we would be moving in these shots to slow down the shutter speed too much, so I increased the ISO. There was a little more light here than in the path surrounded by trees. The shutter speed was still slow at 1/25 sec, but it was enough not to capture too much motion blur that would be distracting. We ended up dancing with me holding her, so I moved closer to the camera to get in a snuggly photo. One thing you have to remember with wide-angle portraits is distortion. I had to adjust the lens correction for distortion and vignetting; otherwise, we would look very disproportionate.
One of the first self-portraits I took with the Obscura was indoors, in a tiny bathroom. I like the way the winter light poured from the window onto the wall around midday. So I set the tripod over the toilet with the window on the camera right. I love that I can squeeze a portrait into a tiny space with such a wide-angle lens. I wanted to experiment with the different aperture settings, and below, you will see the two of them- the pinhole sieve (f45) and pinhole (f90). I usually liked the pinhole setting since it shows more details, but I like the pinhole sieve setting result. I like how that photo showed more emotion and added mystery. In a portrait, I think that is more important than the details.
I love the golden light that falls into our outdoor shed right before hiding behind the trees and setting, so I wanted to get a portrait there. I took a flower bush to cover a part of my face to create a mysterious mood. I set the camera on a tripod pretty close to me to be too small in the frame. This time, I liked the setting with the most detail - the pinhole. I had to slow the shutter speed down and increase the ISO, but the sun was pretty bright, so the ISO didn't have to be too high. I set the camera onto the tripod on an auto-timer and tried not to move.
"The double exposure effect is an instant creative satisfaction that I often am searching for."
Overhead portraits are made simpler with this wide-angle Obscura. In another display of my light chasing around the house, I found some harsh sun on the carpet in my family room. The Obscura can create a double exposure-like photo just like the Lensbaby Trio28 when choosing an in-between optic. Here, I set my shutter speed low and my ISO relatively low- the sun was intense. I positioned myself right in the middle of the light. I always have the multiple shots option turned up to 9 to take a few shots without pressing the shutter again. That's especially important when working with such slow shutter speeds so that if I move a little in some of the shots, that's fine because one of them should be a still one. The double exposure effect is an instant creative satisfaction that I often am searching for.
One day right after the sunset, I thought the sky looked so beautiful and peaceful, so I put on a hat and dress and grabbed my camera with the Obscura. I didn't use a tripod this time- I put my camera down into the grass and tilted it up so that more of the sky was in the frame. I took a few shots with myself as an almost silhouette which is done by exposing for the sky. I liked the pinhole setting the most but tried them all. As I was post-processing, I liked the colors that I could bring out when I increased the shadows, so I was no longer a silhouette. Below are the three settings for comparison. Notice how the details diminish as the aperture decreases.
If you have any questions about any of my setups or want to chat about the Obscura- please reach out. I challenge you to try out the Obscura for a self-portrait - you might love not having to worry about setting your focus!
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Magda Stolte is a hobbyist photography who likes to take photos of her kids, everyday life, self-portraiture, and nature. She enjoys the outdoors and spending time with family.Instagram