How to do Free Lensing or Lens Whacking

Photography is a constantly evolving visual art form. And like all evolving art forms, new and more creative techniques keep revealing themselves. Though this technique isn’t new, it is new to many photographers. The technique is known as free lensing, and it involves a peculiar way of using your camera lens. Doug McKinlay from Adorama shows you how it works:

Lens Whacking?

This technique is sometimes known as lens whacking, though free lensing is a better name; that’s what it really is—freeing the lens from the camera. Regardless of the name, your lens is not going to be damaged in any way while you use this technique.

Why Try Free Lensing?

Free lensing allows us to create really dream-like pictures, with beautiful out of focus effects as well as the hint of tilt-shift without actually using a tilt-shift lens.

how to use the technique of free lensing

You can also get very interesting flares and light leaks, which are difficult to capture using traditional lenses.

tilt-shift with free lensing

Simply tilt your lens left or right to mimic the effects of a tilt-shift lens.

Tools for Free Lensing

You need a DSLR camera and a 50mm lens or shorter. Longer lenses tend to become a hassle to work with after a while. In that sense, lighter lenses are preferred.

Free Lensing Technique

how to use free lensing

The first thing that you should do is set the focus of your lens to infinity. Then remove the lens from your camera in order to shoot.


The lens is focused just short of infinity, and the only way to change that is to move the lens physically forward or back; the focusing ring has no function.

Also, as the lens is detached from the camera you cannot control the aperture (unless there is a mechanical control on the lens).

The only other shooting parameters that you need to control are the shutter speed and ISO. Try to shoot in bright conditions to avoid using a slow shutter speed to avoid the associated camera blur.

Holding Technique

Hold the lens between your thumb and your forefingers.

the technique of free lensing

Hold the camera body within the palm of your hand. This will prevent your camera from moving about. With the lack of image stabilization this assumes critical importance.

The Trick to Focusing

Moving the detached lens closer to the sensor will result in the lens focusing on objects that are farther away.

free lensing technique in photography

Conversely, moving the detached lens away from the camera will allow objects closer to the sensor to be in focus.

macro photography with free lensing technique

That means with a standard prime lens you can mimic the effects of a macro lens simply by moving it farther away from the sensor. Try not only to move the lens alone, but also move your body.

With the lens detached from the body and thus affecting the proper grip of a camera, it’s extremely difficult to compose through the viewfinder. It’s wiser to use the rear LCD screen for composing.

Have you given free lensing a try? Any pointers for beginners?

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