Lensbaby Composer

I have two favorite lenses, my 90mm macro and a Lensbaby Composer. For me, these two lenses act like a painters paintbrushes. Each lens has a particular feel and I use them in different ways, depending on the image I want to capture.

Like Joe and his amazing vintage lenses, I like having a lens that can add imperfections into my photos. Modern lenses are designed to minimize lens flair, have less distortion around the edges, be fast in low light and to reduce or eliminate vignetting. More expensive lenses even have built in image stabilization to minimize vibration that occurs in hand held photography.

All of these attributes are wonderful if you’re photographing sports, fashion, studio or many other styles of photography where accurate representation is important. Perfectionism isn’t really a factor with toy photography so why not have fun and experiment? You can explore vintage lenses like Joe, or try a toy camera lens like the Lensbaby Composer.

Lensbaby Composer

The Lensbaby Composer is different from a vintage lens who’s aberrations are often created in the manufacturing process. The Lensbaby Composer works more like a tilt shift camera. By twisting the front of the lens you move one of the two glass lenses and skew the focal plane. You decide where you want your focal point (sweet spot) to be. You can also determine how much blur you want around the edges depending on your choice of aperture.

The Lensbaby has a truly funky aperture system based on magnetics. You’re given a set of aperture discs that you swap out manually when you want to change your aperture. The disks range in size from f2.8 – f22. More than enough range for the most discerning photographer. The larger your aperture (f2.8) the more blur. The smaller the aperture (f22) the less blur and distortion.

I will fully admit I’m addicted to the dreamy and often surreal blur created by the lens. I think it adds a nice touch to toy photography, especially if I’m looking for a hint of movement in my image.

Side by side comparison

As you can see from this side by side comparison there are subtle but meaningful differences between these two photos. The image on the left taken with my state of the art Sony lens is crisp, clear with beautifully round bokeh. While the same set-up taken using the Lensbaby Composer has a dreamier feel. The radial blur around the edges points back to the subject, while the frozen grass is blurred as if its moving in the wind. Even the bokeh is stretched into an elliptical shape.

Because I like to photography with a very short depth of field my background almost always turns into a soft blurry color field. I like using the Lensbaby because it can bring interest into these areas beyond a pretty blur of colors. I often feel my images take on a dreamlike feeling and I want to emphasize that. My tag line has always been “The Secret World of Toys” and I want to create an other world experience.

A feeling of motion

I’ve had my Lensbaby Composer for about four years. During that time I’ve come to rely on this lens to bring a sense of motion to my static images. There is something about the edge blur that can add a sense of movement. This is easier for me than having to resort to practical effects or Photoshop. I enjoy the challenge of creating my images in the camera without a lot of fuss. I don’t enjoy working in Photoshop, nor do I like to drag around my tripod.

Here are a few examples of images taken with the Lensbaby Composer that I feel bring a sense of motion or surrealism to the image.


Toy Photography doesn’t have to by accurate; we can bend to the rules of realism. We’re taking photos of bits of plastic and we can create images as fanciful as we can imagine. I think toy, plastic, vintage and specialty lenses can help to create unique images that work well with the world of toy photography.

If you’re interested in checking out a Lensbaby they’re more expensive than Joe’s vintage lenses; a new one will cost you around $300US. But if you keep your eyes open, you can pick up a used one for under $100US.

There is a real joy to switching up your lenses. Each lens in your collection will have its own feel and give each image a unique look. Its fun to move outside those super crisp state of the art macro lens and see what else you can capture. There is often a serendipitous nature to your results when using a specialty lens like a Lensbaby. You never quite know what you’re going to capture. And isn’t that part of the magic of photography?

What is your favorite lens to use? Have you tried a vintage lens or a Lensbaby? If you have, what did you think of the results?

~ Shelly

If you like what we’re doing we invite you to support the blog by purchasing our book that celebrates our first year as a blog: A Year in the Life of Toy Photographers, 2017. The book is available for purchase as either an eBook or as a physical copy. All money will go to support and grow the blog. Thank you!

Inspired by Literature

Have you noticed how many challenges are happening in the community right now? Just for fun we have daily hash tags to inspire you. There is also a Batman challenge to win a complete set of the latest CMF mini-figures in partnership with our friends at the LEGO Group. There is also a G+ Monthly contest on literature. February may be a short month, but there is no shortage of challenges to inspire you!

My favorite of all these different major and minor challenges is the literature challenge currently taking place in the our G+ Community. When Julie Blair first proposed this idea I will admit I was skeptical. I’ve been a mod before and I know how hard it is to inspire photographers to participate in challenges. Especially one that makes you think. But if the first week is any indication this is going to be a fabulous challenge! It seems I’m not the only toy photographer who’s work is often inspired by literature. Continue reading Inspired by Literature

Art and Politics

Brett Wilson asked a while ago if conscience should go into toy photography. I think it should, and it should also go into art (and obviously into toy photography that aspires to be art).

Why don’t I like political art?

However, there is one kind of art that usually does not do the job for me. It’s what they call political art. Most political art is very efficient in getting its message across. A Parthenon made of forbidden books: Once you know all these books were sometimes forbidden somewhere, it seems to be hard to misunderstand this work. The artist may mean well, but I am not satisfied.

I do not care for the good intentions of the artist. I care for the kind of art that stays with you because you can never really figure it out although you would really like to. Continue reading Art and Politics

No Child’s Play

Shelly has asked us if we were willing to write a guest entry for her blog Toy Photographers. Apparently, the most amazing photographers gather here. We have certainly come to value the excellent contributions and pictures of the team and their guest bloggers. So, yes, we thought, we’d contribute something too.

We – that is Mic and Sören from Dresden, Germany. For the last three years we have created and photographed funny scenes with mini figures.

But what could we write about? What is there that could be interesting enough about us that someone else would want to read about it? Wow … even thinking about that is hard work. Pretty much all of last year has been hard work. One thing came to another and we were practically rolled over by the events. But first things first. Continue reading No Child’s Play

Photography New Year’s Resolutions

Each new year feels like a blank slate full of possibilities. With that feeling of unlimited possibilities I like to set a few photography new year’s resolutions.

I’ve been talking about setting new year’s resolutions on the blog for more than a few years. These past resolutions include having more fun, five words to define a year and of course learning better technical skills. Brett and I even set one for the blog: create more opportunities to grow and support this community in 2018. Continue reading Photography New Year’s Resolutions

The strong silent hype

We’ve been working on a project since October, but a signed NDA (non-disclosure agreement) means we can’t talk about it until February. The silence around this project almost silenced me. Almost!

Yesterday James wrote about finding inspiration to photograph from within the words and photos of books. Today I struggle to find the inspiration to write words based on the photographs I’ve been taking.

When all I’ve been working on is something that I’ve got to keep my silence about, it’s tough. When my weekly blog post generally evolves from, or relates to what I’ve been working on, it’s so freaking tough. Continue reading The strong silent hype

Thinking inside the box

Let me admit that I am not a builder of models. I am a photographer. So, along with the budget, I also try to minimize the work I put into the sets (hence their slightly minimalist feeling).

To achieve this, I try to build sets which are so flexible that they can be put to multiple uses. And with the above room, I think it worked. The whole thing started when I held a wall with a pair of windows under the desk lamp. I had been ready to discard it because the windows had turned out to be too crooked for H0 scale use. But then I suddenly realized that they could still be used for lighting a room. Continue reading Thinking inside the box

One motive three photographers – the unicorn

What happens when three photographers make pictures with the same motive -a unicorn?

Last Saturday, me, Shelly and Christoffer had a photo-meet-up in Stockholm. It ended with us challenging ourself. We all took an invidual image of the same motive. The Unicorn. The question we asked ourself was: if you will be able to see the photographer behind the camera? Or if you will see the same picture? We worked in the same spot, with the same light and with the same motive… We challenged ourselves. Continue reading One motive three photographers – the unicorn