I don't know how many years ago it was that I bought my first Lensbaby lens, but I remember being so excited that finally there was going to be a way to somewhat mimic, on a 35mm camera, the tilt and shift aesthetic I used to achieve with my 4x5 view camera. Not exactly, but it was a start. In the case of the Lensbaby, unlike a 4x5, you have to manually bend the lens into position and hold it there with your fingers while you release the shutter. This can be incredibly challenging and depending on the aperture you choose -- the wider ones exacerbate the blurry edge effect -- you can find yourself missing a lot of shots. I realized immediately that as fun as it was to create images with this lens it wasn't going to have a lot of commercial application. Until Lensbaby came out with the 3G which allows you to lock the lens into position. As long as you weren't shooting anything moving this was a huge leap forward as now you could step away from the set and not lose focus and have to start all over again, every frame.
After my first Lensbaby but before the 3G I bought a 2.0 which incorporated magnetized aperture rings, a big improvement over the cardboard ones in the previous version. I used the 2.0 for many what I'd call candid portraits and got a lot of interesting and flattering portraits of my favourite subjects - people who don't like having their picture taken. Honestly, there's nothing more satisfying than creating a successful portrait of someone who doesn't think that's even possible. And doing it really quickly and in an unusual and creative way. (I also shot a lot of still lifes, but that's another topic for another time.)
After adding their modular wide angle with macro lens to my kit, I finally bought what I'd say is my favourite Lensbaby lens combo of all, the Control Freak with the Edge 80. I can't be the only customer of theirs who now owns a lens with their secret nickname on it. (No, not "Edge", although I like that.) This combo incorporates a longer lens length than the original Lensbabies, allows focus and position locking, and has replaced the all around blur with more of a pseudo tilt shift capability, in that the focus falls off from one side to another instead of in a circular pattern; in other words, as they say on their website, you get a "slice of sharp focus, bordered by blur."
There aren't a ton of paying jobs for which I've used these lenses, but I still pull them out when I want to take that extra step away from harsh reality and step into a visually modified, more surrealistic realm, where my subject and I can be surprised and delighted by our captures, over and over again.
This portrait of my friend of a zillion years, commercial director Pete Henderson of Someplace Nice, came about because I wanted to test my new hand painted canvas backdrop. Of course, using a focus- destroying (in a good way) lens like the Lensbaby 2.0 kind of negated the testing of the background part of the exercise, as you can hardly see it. But I did, somewhat serendipitously, end up with a few unexpectedly telling and intimate portraits. Thanks, Pete.