As a pet photographer, I find that one of the most exciting and difficult challenges in photographing dogs lies in finding creative ways to capture their essence (I think that’s the word I want to use here). In other words, using the tools that are available to me to best recreate an animal’s personality/playfulness/etc. on a photographic template. Among these tools available are the camera, settings, backdrops, props, lighting, squeaky toys (these are essential), treats and the lens. That’s oversimplifying it a bit, but once you’ve got the foundation of how to best photograph your pets (see my post on pet photography tips), a lot of it comes down to the gear you’re using and what that gear is capable of accomplishing.
In a typical pet portrait session, I will cycle through 4-6 lenses. Each focal length gives me a new perspective and some lenses are better than others at certain tasks. This has helped to provide some structure to my sessions — one lens for one type of shot, one for another and so on. Certain lenses do seem to better characterize a dog by the way that they render images, much like the way that certain lenses are more flattering for people with big noses. With that said, enter the Lensbaby Twist 60.
Lets get one thing straight — this lens is crazy. It’s an absolutely ridiculous and occasionally dizzying piece of gear, but I love it. The Twist 60 is modeled after the Petzval lens (circa 1840), known for its incredible ability to separate a subject from its background and produce a swirly bokeh. Lensbaby provides an affordable entry into this effect with their take on the 1840’s design. The effect gives your images a special, vintage-feel that can’t be accomplished in editing. Like I said, it’s crazy, but dogs are crazy.
When I saw portraits captured by the Lensbaby Twist 60 on Instagram and Flickr, I had a hunch that it would work well to portray the full scope of silliness in a dog’s expression. I was right — it worked wonderfully! The images are mesmerizing, playful and seems to suck you into the dog’s world for a second.
The Twist 60 is a full manual lens, meaning you have to manually select your aperture and focus. Seeing as how dogs don’t like to sit still, I admittedly had more out-of-focus than in-focus shots, but I’m somewhat used to this lower hit-rate in photographing dogs. I should also mention that I rarely stopped down the lens any wider than its widest aperture setting (f2.5), even when my depth of field suffered slightly. That is a compromise I decided to make in achieving maximum swirl, which is what I feel this lens is all about — maximizing the swirl.
I found that the quality of the final image had everything to do with the background. The optics in this lens need something interesting to generate a visually-appealing swirl. This can be leaves, grass, a patterned wall or anything with a consistent texture.
Concluding thoughts? The Lensbaby Twist 60 is a great tool for any portrait photographer to have in their bag. It is well-constructed, a thrill to use and promises to help you create some unique imagery. The way I see it is, the more that you put into this lens, the less of a novelty it becomes. If you pick it up and start shooting without deliberate intentions, you may be unhappy with your result. For me, I think my best images out of this lens are ahead of me.
I’d love to hear your feedback, questions or concerns — I love talking camera gear. Follow me on Instagram for more of my pet photography.
Thanks for reading,