What is freelensing?
Freelensing is a photography technique where you shoot through a lens that isn't connected to your camera; the lens is free of the camera, hence the name. Instead the lens is held in front of the camera at an angle. Often, the results are similar to those achieved with a tilt-shift lens without the hefty price tag or the consistency.
Under normal circumstances, without a specialized lens, the plane of your depth of focus will be parallel to your camera. Think of your depth of focus as a sheet of glass. When you set your aperture you determine how thick the slice of glass will be AKA how much of your photograph will be in focus. When you select your focus point, you select where that piece of glass will sit and provide clarity. The piece of glass would then extend out in front of your camera without twisting or turning. What you get is a chunk of your photograph that is in focus all the way from the right hand side to the left hand side in a straight line. When you freelens you have the ability to move that piece of glass at any angle by tilting, shifting, twisting, and flipping. What you get is a series of photos with truly trippy focus profiles.
How do you freelens?
Freelensing is a pretty simple process but it requires a lot of patience along with a healthy dose of trial and error. Here is a basic run down of how it works in a general sense.
Step 1: Attach the lens you want to use to your camera and turn it on.
Step 2: Set your camera to manual mode, meter for proper exposure and get all your settings in order.
Step 3: Focus. Then flip your lens from auto into manual mode. (Be careful to avoid the focus ring as you take the lens off).
Step 4: Take off the lens.
Step 5: Shift or tilt your lens away from your camera body slightly. Recheck your exposure and make any needed adjustments.
Step 6: Shoot.
Step 7: Review; try again and again and again until you get what you are looking for.
Freelensing Tips and Tricks:
Embrace your prime lenses. Zoom lenses are less than ideal for freelensing because they tend to be heavier and thus harder to keep steady. It’s also difficult to keep the lens from changing focal distance while you are holding the camera with one hand and the lens with the other. The infamous nifty fifty 50mm 1.8 lens that only costs $100 is great for just this purpose.
Avoid any and all weather. Any situation where it will be wet, muddy, sandy, or dusty are bad candidates for freelensing because your camera and the back end of your lens are exposed to the elements.
Be extra careful. Maybe this tip goes without saying but there is double the chance for you to drop something when your lens and your camera are operating independently of each other. Use a wrist or neck strap and make sure you've got a firm grip on that lens before you detach it.
Start with stationary objects. Freelensing is famous for creating weird and beautiful portraits but it is much easier to get comfortable with the process and practice when your subject isn't moving around.
Have fun and don't get discouraged! Outside of making images that are quirky and unique, freelensing is supposed to be a fun experiment that sparks inspiration. If it’s not working out the way you want, keep trying. There is a lot of trial and error in the less than exact science of freelensing.