What is Freelensing?

Photos taken with the lens detached from the camera but held in place and moved around to focus. This also lets extra light in sometimes causing light leaks and giving a vintage look and feel.

Freelensing can also:

  • Give extra bokeh by shrinking the area in focus (aperture is 0)
  • Allow for super macro shots
  • Produce ethereal lighting by allowing stray light to get in to the sensor
  • Make delicious light leaks
  • Create tilt-shift effects

How do I do it?

If you just want the tilt-shift effect, you can detach the lens, but hold it in place against the camera. Slightly move the lens left, right, up or down.

It’s easier if your camera has a “live view” so you can see what it looks like, but it’s not too much harder with the view finder.

You only need to move the lens a few millimetres (fractions of an inch), and doing it this way, there’s not much risk of dust getting in to the sensor.

If you want lightleaks or the super-macro kind of effect, you will need to hold the lens a little bit further away (probably no more than a finger width, though). This is a bit more risky if you’re worried about dust, so try not to hold the lens away from the camera for too long and only do it in a dust-free environment.

For light leaks, I’ve found it’s best to be in a fairly dark room, with a big window in front of you. This lets the outside light get in to the camera (i.e. not through the lens, but just going straight in to the gap between the lens and the camera) but limits the ambient light getting in (which makes the photos less defined).

Will it work with my (SLR) camera?

Canon – Yes

Nikon – Yes – You have to put the camera into manual mode (thanks Eddie Barksdale)

Sony – Yes – In your camera’s menus, look for the “Release w/o Lens” option, and make sure it is enabled. You might also need to make something that will hold the aperture lever on the back of the lens in the open position (thanks ted @ndes)

If you’ve had success with your camera and it’s not on the list, let us know in the comments here or on the freelensing forum on Flickr.


Polaroid 636 Closeup084|365 Fragments193|365 Fragments023|365 Fragments323356|365 Fragments

See more on the Flickr Freelensing pool.

92 thoughts on “Freelensing”

  1. excellent, the images you displayed above are these yours and what post processing did you do the effect is exactly what i am after in some of my photos (top right image in particular)

  2. Dust is a serious concern. You can pretty much guarantee to get the sensor dirty.

    You’d be better of using a purpose built lens (eBay?), like a lensbaby or tiltshift.

    1. I don’t know about “guarantee” – maybe if you’re taking the lens completely off for long periods and shooting. Trying to get lightleaks increases the likelihood of dust getting in, but just disconnecting the lens slightly moving it is pretty safe.

      A tiltshift would obviously be better, but that’s out of most peoples budget. Lensbaby would be fun too, but this is free and you can try it right away :) I guess people can try this and see if they like it, then move on to a Lensbaby if they do.

    1. It’s a similar effect to a Lensbaby, yes, but you can do it with your normal lens. If you like the effect and are concerned about dust, it might be better to get a real lensbaby, though. But this is a good way to try it out for free.

  3. Hey! I like this. And I have tried it. I wonder if I can publish your illustration of this on my blog. Of course your name and link to this will be there too. Would that be ok? Now I only have this page linked from my blog, but I really would loved to have this illustration there too.

  4. Hi!
    This is a great tutorial!
    I am a photographer and journalist writing for a norwegian photography website. Is it possible to use your illustrations in an article about freelensing? You will of course have your name on it and a link to this site.

  5. Hi!

    I love this tutorial too! I’ve discovered it thanks to a friends a few months ago and I’ve finally performed my first free lensing tests today.

    I’m not only a photography lover but also a French computer sciences student.
    I’ve chosen to write an article about free lensing as a a school assignment and I’d like to know if I can use your beautiful illustrations as well (putting a link too). Instead of trying to do dirty ones!

    Thanks in advance.


  6. Pingback: Freelancing «
  7. Oh this is amazing!! I tried them out in the garden and around the house along with random objects and it is pure genius! The results I’m getting are good. Thanks soo much.

  8. Very interesting, I will have to give that a try. I kind of stumbled upon something similar in the dark room when the easel wasn’t seated properly in the enlarger. Hadn’t thought to do it on the lens, though.

  9. Try this:bridge the gap between the body and lens with gaffer’s tape (that doesn’t leave sticky residue – DO NOT use duct tape!) It’s flexible so you can move the lens around, but should keep junk out. I wouldn’t leave it on long, though, and remove carefully – don’t want it to harm the finish!

  10. Hi,
    I gave this a try the other day and as soon as I detached the lens pretty much everything went black in the viewfinder. Is it because of light leaks? I have a Nikon D60 and I used the kit lens. Also when I turned it around to try macro shots it was completely dark and I couldn’t see anything through the lens. Any help would be greatly appreciated!!!!! Thanks guys!

    1. The kit lens should work, but a 50mm lens seems to work the best. On a Nikon, you might need to set the camera to Manual (some people have had success with Aperture Priority too) to get it to work. With Nikon lenses, you will also need something to hold open the aperture rings. You might like to read through some of the other discussions on the Flickr group too.

      Hope that helps!

  11. Thanks. I tried it out again with the kit lens and I went outside and that seemed to help a little. Maybe regular room light wasn’t good enough. The only thing I’m still having trouble with is flipping the lens around to do macro shots. I guess I’ll just have to play around with it. Thanks for the advice!

  12. Weird request: I’m a graphic designer, and helping the Capture camera clip system guys with their new product. We’re working on the packaging and could really use a vector illustration of the top of an SLR. Just like the one you’re using for your Freelensing illustration above. Would you mind sharing? Perhaps a barter?

  13. I tried this technique earlier too. I am using this technique with a 50mm on nikon D90. Somehow its difficult to achieve focus. Any tips to achieve better focus ?

    1. I wrote some extra freelensing tips here collected from the freelensing Flickr group. I think the key is to set the focus at infinity and just very slowly tilt the lens until you see the object come in to focus. If you are still having trouble, maybe try asking on the Flickr group where there are a lot of other Nikon freelensers.

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