A few months ago, I was browsing Vimeo and stumbled on to the beautiful, ethereal work of James Miller, who specializes in a filming technique known as “lens whacking”. The basic gist is to capture the video/film image with the lens physically detached from the camera body. The shooter essentially holds the glass in front of the sensor by hand, allowing for a gap between the lens’ rear element and the camera sensor– this creates an ever-shifting, highly unusual focal plane, and creates some wonderful light leaks and vignetting.
(photo of Mr. Miller in action, courtesy of philipboom.net)
Enormously inspired by Miller’s short films, I ordered a cheap Nikon e-series 50mm lens from the 1970s, and gave it a go this weekend.
I fell in love with the process, and the results, IMMEDIATELY.
The images that spring from this technique have a floating, dreamy, other-worldly quality that really can’t be replicated in post, or with specialty glass, like the Lens Baby Composer. The sheer randomness and singularity of almost every frame makes the footage look and feel incredibly human and organic — to me, anyway — and I don’t know if anyone could cook up the same esthetic in After Effects, or another compositing program.
I don’t know if I’m any good at it yet, (I’m most likely pretty horrible; it’s not an easy technique to employ), but I had a BLAST practicing for a few hours this weekend.
I enjoyed it so much, I started putting together a short film from the footage I shot. For the sake of added learning, and an opportunity to experiment with motion-graphic, I also started adding some animated text elements and 3D camera tracking.
Here’s a couple short clips of lens-whacked footage, combined with motion tracking.