San Francisco Bay Area photographer Laura Tillinghast loves adding something special to her images with the help of Lensbaby lenses. She used Sol 45 and Burnside 35 to shoot this series of vibrant environmental portraits.

My first love as a photographer and what I continue to love today, is photographing people. I work primarily as a commercial photographer and get to shoot with human subjects quite a lot but I usually don’t have much creative leeway. Most of my assignments come with a creative brief that outlines my client’s project and it’s my job to execute it. To keep my own creative juices flowing between assignments, I rely on portraiture and I really love finding new ways to create dramatic portraits. I have two secrets these days for adding that special something to a portrait. First, I like to keep a few Lensbaby lenses in my camera bag. Secondly, I bring the magic to my editing process with Skylum’s Luminar software (more on that later).

Sol 45

For this latest shoot, I wanted to give the Sol 45 a try with one of my all-time favorite subjects; a dancer. And not just any dancer, but a ballerina. I like to use the Sol 45 locked in the central position so that the sweet spot of sharp focus is perfectly centered. This way when I captured Emily’s beautiful leap into the air, I could ensure that her face and upper body would be in focus. The Sol 45 features a fixed f/3.5 aperture and I just love how softly the bokeh effect transitions from the center of the frame outward.

Laura Tillinghast Lensbaby Sol 45 Ballerina leaping in blue dress

Another way that I like to use the Sol 45 is by placing something between myself and the subject to allow even more bokeh effect to be created. In the example below, I positioned Emily between large palm fronds so that the Sol 45 would create beautiful bokeh both in the background and in the foreground. I really love this effect and think it adds a lot more drama to a portrait.

Laura Tillinghast Lensbaby Sol 45 Ballerina in red dress

Next, I decided to experiment with the bokeh blades of the Sol 45. This lens features two small blades that fold out in front of the lens, creating a line effect within the bokeh pattern of your image. In the example below. I placed the blades partially out but not covering the center of the lens. This created the line effect only at the edges of the frame.

Laura Tillinghast Lensbaby Sol 45 Ballerina in red dress

Burnside 35

The other lens I had in my bag for this shoot was the Burnside 35. This lens is super versatile and can create a portrait with a hint of softness or you can go the other direction and create a super dramatic swirl effect.

The Burnside 35 lens is similar to a standard portrait lens with an aperture range of f/2.8 to f/16. With this in mind, I wanted to create some full-length portraits to also capture the beauty of the Los Angeles County Arboretum where we were shooting.

I positioned Emily next to the fountain and set my aperture to 5.6 to keep the background in focus enough to see it was a lovely fountain, but shallow enough depth-of-field that the trees and water would be a softer focus than the subject. In the example below, Emily’s face and upper body are in focus while the trees and water softly fall out of focus.

Laura Tillinghast Lensbaby Burnside 35 Ballerina in blue dress

To take this a step further, I added a vignette with the built-in slider on the side of the lens. This is a great tool to use on bright days like the one I was shooting on. I like how the vignette cuts down the overall brightness of the sky around the subject and the center-focused vignette makes sure the viewer’s eye goes right to the subject. In the example below, the image on the left has no vignette while the image on the right has a full vignette. Choose something in-between for a more subtle effect, I was going for full drama here.

Laura Tillinghast Lensbaby Burnside 35 Ballerina in blue dress vignette editing

Another awesome feature of the Burnside 35 is the swirly bokeh effect you can create. I like to use this technique for tighter portraits as you need to position yourself about 3-feet from your subject and place your subject at least 12-feet from the background to ensure a good swirl effect. In the example below, I used a flowering bush as a backdrop and love how much Emily pops out from the background using this technique.

Laura Tillinghast Lensbaby Burnside 35 girl in blue dress with yellow flower in hair against swirly flower background

Post-production with Luminar

Once the shoot is over, the fun really begins as I get to edit the images and add the final touches to make them really come to life. I like to use Luminar software for my portrait editing because I can edit each RAW file and then do the creative edits, all in the same program. With the built-in Luminar filters, I can quickly edit an image and take it from RAW to final export in a fraction of the time it used to take me with other programs.

I also really love the built-in Presets and use them when I need to breathe new life into my images. Another big draw for me with Luminar is the built-in Presets. I often tweak the Presets that come with Luminar and then save them as my own custom Presets to use in the future.

The example below shows a typical edit for me in Luminar. I added a soft vignette effect and pumped up the color, contrast, and warmth. Check out the video below for a more in-depth look at how I edited this portrait.

Laura Tillinghast Lensbaby Sol 45 Ballerina in red dress editing


If you are looking for new ways to add drama and interest to your interest, you can’t go wrong by bringing together Lensbaby and Luminar. I’ll definitely be photographing more dancers with these lenses very soon.

Check out more of Laura’s work on her website, Instagram, and Facebook.

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