By William Gray on 1/12/16
William “Bill” Gray has worked in the motion picture industry for nearly 3 decades. Based out of Baltimore, Maryland, he’s worked with Arris, Aatons and Panavisions, serving as a focus puller for some of the most gifted cameramen in the business, working on shows like The Wire. In the past decade, Bill has shifted his focus to stills, and has taken a liking to Lensbaby. In this Tips & Tricks blog, Bill will detail a collection of his Lensbaby shots and what he did to create each.
Horse paddocks at Oldfields School, Maryland. Nikon FE2, Lensbaby Edge 80. Kodak Portra 400. Exposed at 200 ISO.
When I saw this I just shifted my Edge 80 to the right as far as it could go. I Focused on the foreground and then moved the camera left or right till the focus felt right. I always shoot several slightly different frames in a static image situation like this one. The viewfinders in all 35mm cameras are too small to judge focus fall off. The ground glass in every new digital camera flat out lies, they are made for autofocus only. Lensbaby images take on a totally different look when digitally enlarged or viewed from scans on a computer screen. That’s why I shoot 5 or 6 images in any given setup. I’m slightly moving where I stand, making small increments of lens shift changes and slight near far focus adjustments.
Background extra on a movie set. Jessup, AKA, The Cut, Maryland. Canon 7D, Lensbaby Edge 80. Nikon Silver Efex Pro.
The focus plane on this one is diagonal. I stood in the middle of a group of extras in an exterior prison scene at The Cut. Filled the frame with just faces and shot till the assistant director threw me off the set. There is always plenty to photograph on a movie. Background extras sure love to stay in character.
I’m sure there are plenty of different black & white converters out there. NIK is so easy to use for me, the flavors of past darkroom wet black and white film processes filters are amazing.
Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC. Nikkromat Lensbaby Sweet 35 Optic. Kodak Ektachrome 100. Cross processed. Black and White Conversion with Nik Silver Efex Pro.
I’ve filmed at the Lincoln Memorial for almost 30 years. I never grow tired of DC location work. This shot is from some sunrise filming we did for a movie. I always take a camera to Washington. You never know what job will get you into a unique location the general public will never see. I’ve been on the roof of the Lincoln and at the top of the Washington Monument with the windows open.
The color scared version of this image had a lot of cyan fringing. I had to strip out the color with NIK Silver Efex Pro. The soft sepia of the white columns I didn’t even imagine when I saw the color scan. That was a happy accident in Nik.
I almost never stop down the f-stop with Lensbaby products. I use a polarizing or neutral density filter in bright daylight if my camera shutter speeds cannot compensate for wide open apertures.
Renee, my wife, fishing in Antietam Creek, Maryland. Nikon FE2, Lensbaby Edge 80. Kodak TRI-X. Nik Silver Efex Pro.
Diagonal focus plane. I was after the whip back of the fly line. Never quite got it. It wasn’t until I looked at the EPSON flatbed scans that I realized that this image worked best as a diptych. I blew out the highlights a small bit in NIK Silver Efex Pro.
Working on ‘The Wire’, Baltimore, Maryland. Nikkromat, Lensbaby 2.0. Kodak TRI-X. Tim Hennessy or Sarah Brandes shot the portrait of me, I shot the frame on the left. Spent a lot of time focus pulling (1st AC) for the second unit on that show. Always had my camera with me.
The twins, Gida on the left and Luca on the right. Antietam, Maryland. Sunrise, camping. Nikon FE2, Lensbaby Edge 80. Kodak TMAX 100. NIK Silver Efex Pro.
My Vizsla brother and sister are always accompanying me. What better form of practice for a Lensbaby than dogs. They never do what you want and most often move just before you pick a focus. I was very lucky in this frame. I wanted the foreground, Luca, and the far bend of the field. The Kodak TMAX 100 is such a wonderful film for morning haze and summer light. I love how I can flatten, darken, plus unsharpen the upper tonal range while sharpening the midtones and shadow areas in NIK Silver Efex Pro.
I prefer a hybrid form of film photography. Shoot film, scan and work on the results in Photoshop, plus some NIK… I have 40 years of darkroom and photography museum exhibits behind me. Sometimes I don’t see something in a neg till years later. Most often it’s micmicking old school photographic processes. I never use the full on presets in NIK. There are adjustments to most of the sliders in every print.
Roland Park Country School, Blatimore, Maryland. Girls Lacrosse. Nikon FE2, Lensbaby Edge 80, Kodak TRI-X.
I love that school sports are held in the best light of fall and spring. I saw the light from the top of the hill and instantly visualized this in camera multiple exposure. I cut the exposure roughly into 3rds, tilted one way, shot, and tilted another, shot, etc. I think I only used 3 or 4 frames of film. I was very lucky with light that day.
I wanted the high contrast look that Ray Metzler used in his multiple exposure photographs. I wish I had a finer grain Kodak TMAX 100 in my camera but I didn’t. The reflective qualities of artificial turf helped the contrast and shadows. I used NIK Silver Efex Pro ‘Vintage’ & ‘Split toning’ effects.
I often flatten the NIK layer with the original, save as a copy, then duplicate the image again in the layers. I add an overall ‘Unsharp’ filter to the top layer. That makes the TRI-X grain look like I developed the film in Agfa Rodinal. This “Unsharp” mask doesn’t work well for shadow areas nor blurred out parts of the image. So I hide the “Unsharp” layer and then with the brush I paint in the areas where the lens made the image sharp. I avoid sharpening areas that are blurred already. Sometimes I even soften some of the out of focus areas with gaussian blur, just to highlight the sharp areas a bit more. I’ll never forget my art professor from college, he always said that August Rodin used to leave rough cut stone next to smooth just to make the smooth parts look smoother.
I’ve had multiple Lensbaby products, but the Edge 80 has become my favorite go-to lens. It’s smallness with my thin sleek Nikon FE2 is easy to carry.
Savage Race, Eastern Shore of Maryland. Nikon FE2, Lensbaby Edge 80. Ektachrome 100. Cross Processed. Not much sharping or blur was used in Photoshop.
Photo friends know I still shoot film so I’m often given out of date film. I shoot all slide film for crossed processing. I like the surprises you get with color scanning when you process slides in color negative chemistry. When I shoot slide film, I bracket three shots, one at the manufacturers ISO, one under and one over exposed. 65% of the time the colors from the scans are not that great. Noritsu and Fuji scanners hve a lot of trouble with cross processing. I don’t even attempt to scan with my EPSON flatbed. I always have the option of going to BW and then toning in NIK silver Efex Pro.
For action like this one, I randomly picked a tilt, then I rack focus quickly backwards and forwards through the meat of the subject matter while in multi frame shooting mode. I get lucky. It’s a pure numbers game and odds are better when you shoot digital. I shot images like this one at different points of the rae. I only use 5 or 6 frames at a time. 95% of my images were unusable. I love film so the risk is worth it to me. I love how quickly I can get the look of film in Photoshop when I shoot film. NIK and others are wonderful but time consuming. I also get a permanent backup of my images with film.
Antietam Creek, Maryland. Summer 2015. Nikon FE2, Lensbaby Edge 80. Fujicolor 400 exposed at 200ISO. NIK Color Efex Pro.
My family owns land on the Horseshoe Bend of Antietam Creek. I first camped there in the early 80’s. My wife and I were married there in 2007. This piece of land has become very special to us. I know where and when the light will be at its best.
I spend most of my time looking for near and far subject matter that I can put in the same focus plane. With the Lensbaby Edge 80, it is very easy to over tilt. I’ve used this lens since it came out and yet I still over tilt 80% to 90% of the time. My quickest workflow is to guess and move the tilt as I bring the camera to my eye, check focus and then turn the camera on its side, on its bottom, looking (guessing) at imaginary horizontal and vertical lens shifts with respect to the film plane. I’m often cutting back the tilts, then re-checking by rack focus through my subject focus planes. I often repeat this multiple times. I also shift to the right of left with my feet to put subject matter further to the left and right of the frame.
Antietam, Maryland. Summer Camping. Nikon FE2, Lensbaby Edge 80. Kodak TRI-X. Nik Silver Efex Pro.
Nothing better than splash fight between boys summer camping. I tilted the Edge 80 as far as it could go. I focused on the foreground and moved camera left and then right to get the plane of focus straight through to the woman sitting in the background reading.
There is so much luck in these kinds of action shots. You have to shoot a lot. I’m always practicing focus planes in the more mundane periods of life so I’m quicker when subject matter is amazing. There is no substitute for practice.
Here’s a list of links to Bill’s work: