Embracing the Blur – Shooting Wide Open with the Lensbaby Velvet 85 (or 56)

If you are connected with me on any of my social media you probably know how much I love my Lensbaby Velvet 85. But I have a confession to make, for a very long time I didn’t like the look of the Velvet 56 (first Velvet on the market) and I never intended to own one. But then the 85 was launched and Lensbaby kindly offered to send me one and I was hooked from the first time I used it.

I mostly shoot around f4 when I’m using either of the Velvet lenses, there’s a lovely softness around the edges of the frame but none of the glow that comes from shooting at a wider aperture. I often try to avoid the glow since it doesn’t always suit the subject or scene and focusing can be challenging. But now and again I’ll embrace the effect and open up the aperture to f2 or f1.8.

Lensbaby Velvet 85 still life photography
Lensbaby Velvet 85 at wide aperture
Texture from Glorious Greys.
Focus tips for Lensbaby Velvet lens
Textures from Inky Papers 1&2
Focus tips for Lensbaby Velvet lens
Texture from Collection No 2
Focus tips for Lensbaby Velvet lens

I don’t keep a note of apertures but all the above were taken between f2.8 and f1.8, I’m pretty sure the final image was at f1.8.

How to focus your Lensbaby Velvet lens at wider apertures:

If you’ve ever tried to shoot wide open with your Lensbaby you’ve probably realised that focusing can be very difficult. Even if you have focus peaking the glow of wide apertures means it’s not accurate. I’ve found from experience that it’s better to compose your image and focus the shot with an aperture of f4 or f5.6 and then change the aperture (don’t forget to adjust the exposure too!) before shooting. You’ll need to ensure that you don’t move at all between setting focus and taking the shot, at a wide aperture it doesn’t take much movement to throw the focus off, and the best way to do this is by using a tripod. I’m really not a tripod fan so for images like these I wedge my elbows firmly on the table and take notice of the position of major elements in relation to the edge of the frame in case I move slightly. I also take a series of 3 or 4 images with just the smallest movement of the focus ring and generally find if the focus in the first image is slightly off one of the others will work.

Do you have any other tips for focus at wider apertures? If you have why not share them in the comments…

{You can find out more about the Lensbaby Velvet 85 here on the Lensbaby website – this is an affiliate link which means I earn a small commission on any purchases. If you are buying from the Lensbaby website feel free to use my exclusive discount code WBROUGHTON to save 10%}

6 Comments

  • Darlene

    Do you find much difference in using the 85 vs 56?

  • Betty Seeney

    Thank you so much for those very handy tips Janet…I only got my Velvet 85 a couple of days ago so have been having some fun sorting it out or rather myself. It definitely is quite different to my Tokina 100 macro and is challenging. Hopefully I will get used to it shortly.

    • Janet Broughton

      Glad you found the post useful Betty. I’m sure you will get used to your Lensbaby, there can be a bit of a learning curve but worth persevering!

  • JANE BERRISFORD

    Thanks for a great article which I found very useful ! The centre of focus on the velvet is in the middle…. so, am interested in how you achieved such fine detail on the shell where is it positioned on the left of the image. Did you focus on the shell positioned in the middle of the image, take the picture and then crop the image ? I usually give up with frustration trying to focus using F2.8 so need to persevere ! A lovely image Janet..

    • Janet Broughton

      So glad you found it useful Jane, perseverance is definitely required for wider apertures with the Velvet! I try not to crop my images if I can avoid it, I think I may have used a clarity brush in Lightroom to bring back just a little detail but the shell must have been within the area of focus although I must admit I didn’t give that much thought! I know around f4 the edges of the frame are softer than the centre but perhaps this doesn’t apply in the same way with the wider apertures, I’ll have to experiment some time!