To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place…I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.

 – Elliot Erwitt

As someone who lives with a pretty clear view of the difference between want and need, there aren’t a whole lot of things that sit on the fence in my purchase decisions. That said, when I find something that fills a creative “need” in me, beyond giving me one more thing to carry, I make a move.

That is what happened to me this past summer. Most who know me already know that I am a longtime Lensbaby lover. I have almost everything they have ever made since the Lensbaby 2.0, with a few exceptions. I have my favorites (who doesn’t?), and among them are the Velvets – lenses that give an amazing glow to subjects at the wider apertures. My first was the Velvet 56. I still love it and use it most often for my flowers and “smalls.” Then came the Velvet 85. And, while I love this lens as well, I still use(d) the 56 more often. Keep in mind that the numbers (56 and 85) reflect an angle of view, just like “normal” lenses. And, once you get to f/8 and beyond, the special glow that these lenses are known for disappears, making the Velvet behave like most others.

Just so you know, Lensbaby lenses and optics are all manual focus. You must be willing to go there and know that relying on autofocus and zoom are not options. With a roller bag full of these babies, I have.

When your first love is flowers, it’s easy to love a Lensbaby. While editing can be minimal, it doesn’t mean you don’t add your personal touch.

Wide apertures with the Velvet 28 (or any of the Velvets) reveal other worlds within flowers.

Blame it on a Zinnia

And, then, the Velvet 28 was announced. I admit that I was slow to consider it and wasn’t in a race to be the first to buy it. Remember the roller bag… For me, I saw it as a wider-angle lens limited to a single focal length that I wouldn’t normally reach for. When I’m out in the field shooting, my preference for flexibility and ease of an AF-zoom lens is more like 24-120mm. So, I waited and watched and watched and waited.

In late June, however, I had the opportunity to put the Velvet 28 on my camera and “test” it. Five frames in – yes, five – and I was sold. Frames 4 and 5 were of a pink zinnia. I sat down in front of it (a flower less than three inches wide) and nearly filled the frame from two inches away without adding any diopters or close-up accessories. That, for me, was a game changer. Yes, I could do wider angle scenes, and at “normal” apertures, but I could also take a single lens on a walk and capture larger subjects as well as the smaller ones AND get close enough to fill the frame with just what I wanted. Not only that, these images could “feel” the way I wanted them to with minimal post processing. What I once again saw in this Lensbaby was creativity and flexibility.

With that brief experience and revelation, the Velvet 28 joined the arsenal in late August. We are still getting to know each other, and I continue to see potential for different subjects. I cannot wait to take it on a trip with me to some of my favorite barns and rural landscapes as well as my coastal haunts. In fact, I’m looking forward to using it this coming week on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. No telling what I will discover!

This is the offending Zinnia that I blame for adding the Velvet 28 to my bag. Yes, this is TWO inches from the flower with minimal editing and wide aperture.

Even simple grasses offer magic in their curls with the Velvet.

Capturing a “Feel”

As photographers, we often respond to images by how they make us feel. I’m no different. When the light is magical or a subject lights up my insides to the point that my facial expression and eyes glow with delight, I’m all in. And, while my first love will always be flowers, nearly everything can have its moment. When I close my eyes and think of running my fingers across black velvet, there’s a sensory experience that happens in my memory, and it just feels good. When I have a Lensbaby Velvet mounted on my camera and watch what happens through the viewfinder at the wider, glowy apertures (f/5.6 and wider), that good feeling is accompanied with deep sighs of delight and a touch of awe and wonder. Awe in that the simplest things take on a cloak of beauty that might otherwise have been missed.

The brown, dried clumps of ferns (aka, dead) on a trail in West Virginia come to mind. The amber beauty of the season’s change had come and gone, leaving the remnants in shades of brown and beige. The Velvet 28 allowed me to move in close and draw the lingering beauty out. I was not surprised.

With larger subjects and scenes, the velvety glow can add mood and emotional elements. Can these effects be achieved in post processing? Well, yes, with some work and time just about anything is possible. The experience, however, of capturing the essence and feel of subjects that draw you in for your own reasons WHILE you are in the moment are pretty darn awesome. I’ll take that experience any day of the week.

And, here, the lowly dead fern came alive in its post-season colors and curves while others walked by, ignoring this beauty.

Phlox outside my front door, handheld using the rocking back and forth method. A bonus surprise by way of  a stink bug in this lovely.

Flexibility to Document or Interpret

The fact that I can document subjects with smaller apertures (minimizing or eliminating the velvety glow) or freely interpret my subject with the Velvets, in particular, make them a good fit for my style of shooting. Words I associate with the Velvets at wider apertures are ethereal, soft focus, magical, peaceful and calm. They reflect the “places” I want my images to take me, and they do. Would any of these lenses be a “good” fit for bird and wildlife photographers? Probably not. Could they play a role in a landscape photographer’s world? Perhaps, depending on style and preferences. Street photography? Probably. And, what about portrait photographers? Again, depending on photographic style, definitely.  I love the Velvets for what they offer me creatively, and they fit my photographic style that leans more toward interpretive and artistic than documentary.

Meanwhile, I’m embracing my Velvet 28 and look forward to doing more and different things with it in the field and with a wider range of subjects than my flowers (though they will always remain my first love).

Why do we stop for the broken? Here it is documented …

That beautiful broken blue shutters … here we interpret wide open.