As a flower photographer I have been reaching for the Lensbaby Velvet 56mm when I want to photograph flowers in a more creative and beautiful way. The Velvet 56mm has long been my hands-down-favorite lens, since it was first released in 2015. The signature ethereal, velvety glow that the lens produces when shot in the lower apertures changed my photography and started me on a journey of not only photographing flowers in a new way, but seeing them in a whole new way. Because the lens focuses as close as 5 inches from your subject it has always been a perfect fit for my style of photographing my subjects up-close.
I am most often working right at that 5 inch macro setting when I shoot with the 56mm. When I want to pull back and include more of the environment the flower is growing in, I can count on the Velvet 56mm to produce beautiful, blurred backgrounds straight out of camera. In fact, I often stare at a Velvet image on my computer screen and wonder that there must be something I can do to improve this beautiful image straight out of camera, but often the answer is simply “no,” it needs minimal to no post-processing.
When Lensbaby approached me earlier this year to beta test the new Velvet 85mm, I was excited and curious to know how the longer focal length could add to my photography. The minute the lens arrived via UPS, I flew out the door to give it a whirl. On this first try, I put it to the ultimate test of photographing orchids in an orchid show, probably the most challenging of flowers and situations to photograph in the flower world.
What I learned in that first couple of hours with the Velvet 85mm was that this lens was a perfect fit for shooting in environments where I could not get as close to the flower or, in particular, where I wanted more control of my backgrounds. Not only did I find I was was nailing focus more easily with the 85mm but I was consistently coming up with the most beautiful blurred backgrounds. This is where I believe the 85mm is a real standout. The longer focal length gives you more compression in the background, thus producing gorgeous blur and beautiful separation of subject and background.
The Velvet 85mm focuses at a minimum distance of 9.5 inches (1:2 “macro”). When I am trying to draw the eye to the intimate details of a flower or other botanical subjects that may not be close enough for me. That’s where I would either reach for the Velvet 56mm or put on an extension tube with the 85mm to allow me to focus closer. There have been very few instances were I couldn’t get in as close as I wanted and, in all honesty, the 85mm stretched me to experiment with pulling back a bit more in my photography and including more background.
In many cases the reason I am moving in as close as possible is to eliminate having to do a lot of work in post-processing when I can’t control a messy background in camera. The Velvet 85mm allows me step back a bit producing gorgeous backgrounds a step beyond the 56mm.
What became very clear to me after 4 months of shooting with this lens is that Lensbaby once again encouraged me to experiment with a new way of shooting and opened creative doors for me. That’s why I have always turned to Lensbaby all along, after all. It brings creativity and experimentation back into the picture and makes photography fun.
I took that creative spirit a step further, way out of my comfort zone. I began experimenting with shooting landscapes with both Velvets, to create a magical feeling to the landscape. This, I found, was pure fun, and not fraught with my usual angst about not being a “good enough” landscape photographer, let alone having to struggle with a lot of post processing to bring that image to life. Another door opened thanks to Lensbaby.
Yes, you are going to hear a lot about the Velvet 85mm as an amazing lens for portraits. A lot of the marketing for the lens focuses on it being the perfect portrait lens and you are going to see some amazing images produced with the lens. It is also the perfect lens for flowers or botanical subjects, as well. I take “portraits” of flowers and many of the same tenets apply for both types of photography. The Velvet 85mm will not replace my 56mm; they are both in my bag at all times. What this lens does is allows me to expand my way of shooting botanical subjects.
In a nutshell, they both produce the same ethereal glow, beautiful straight-out-camera photos, beautiful blurred backgrounds and the ability to work up close with my subjects. The difference is that the 56mm allows me to work closer and the 85mm allows me to stand back and include more subject while creating gorgeous compression to my background.
Want to know more about Velvet 85?! Read Lensbaby founder Craig Strong’s take on Velvet 56 v. Velvet 85 right here.
You can see more of Anne’s work at her website, Anne Belmont Photography.