Lens Whacking

Lens Whacking!

    Do you love light leaks? Want to achieve a ‘dreamy’ or otherworldly look? Then lens whacking is for you. But buyer beware, lens whacking not only exposes your cameras sensor to light and dust, and possible fracture, but also balances your lens between your fingers, unattached to the body of the camera itself. I’ve never broken a lens using this technique, and my sensor seems to be chugging along just fine, but this is not an endorsement of the safety of lens whacking, so you choose to do so at your own risk.

With that out of the way, what is lens whacking? Basically, its just detaching the lens from the camera, and recording. You still hold the lens in front of the sensor, but with careful, delicate movements of the lens, you can achieve light leaks and flares, and change the focal plane, creating a dreamy look reminiscent of old film cameras with light leaks. I find it perfect for memories, dreamscapes, spirituality and anything otherwordly, also, it’s really fun to do.

I used this technique in Flow, to visualise Uncle Tom Trevorrow’s deep spiritual connection with his lands and waters. The dreamlike memory aesthetic lent a retrospective sadness to the moment, as Uncle Tom searched for old drinking wells along the Coorong, which now dying from salination. It was featured in other parts of the documentary too, always to connote the spirituality and power of the Ngarrindjeri.

What you’ll need:

1 - a camera with detachable lenses. Preferably a lightweight smaller camera, dSLR’s are perfect for this, but you can use larger bodied cameras as well, its just more taxing on the arms/difficult (as you’ll be holding the camera body and lens in one hand).
2 - a wide to standard prime lens. I generally use my 50 mm, but shorter focal lengths work fine too. The longer you get the harder it is to balance the lens and avoid camera shake.

Note: Using a lens that is not made for your camera mount can make for an even better effect. If you get one that has a smaller mount than the one intended, you can fit the lens right up close to the focal plane This adds another level of control of your focus. While it is not prohibitive to use the same mount, its also quite cheap to get yourself a secondhand 35mm or 50mm pancake lens, or a cheap lens adapter just for the purposes of lens whacking.

What to do:

Attach your lens to the camera body, set your aperture to wide open to get that creamy bokeh (or stop it down to cut light and possibly for sharpness depending on the lens) and set your focus to infinity. You won’t really be able to adjust your focus with the focal ring once you get started, instead, you will adjust your focal plane by moving your lens further from, and closer to, the cameras sensor. So now, turn your camera off, and then detach the lens. Turn your camera back on, lens detached, and your ready to go.

Be very careful when turning your camera on and off. If you are using a dSLR, make sure nothing is obstructing the mirror, which clamps shut and opens up when you turn your camera on and off, or to and from movie/stills mode. If something is obstructing the mirror (like a lens at an odd angle), the force of it opening or shutting may smash your valuable mirror, reducing your expensive camera to a paperweight.

Now use your palm, pinky and ring finger to cup the camera, and your thumb, forefinger and index finger to grip the lens. Use small delicate movements to slide the lens closer and further from the sensor, letting in light leaks and play with the focus. You can use your free hand to shelter the sensor from undesired light, and play with the amount you let in, or you can use it to help stabilise your camera. From here on in its all just about playful creativity.

What to look for:

I often find myself getting lost in the moment when lens whacking, searching for that perfect interplay of light and movement. Strong sources of light, or light points can make for very interesting background elements or light leaks. So keep in mind where the light is and look for that perfect angle. Happy hunting!


The stunning ability to reduce something that takes hours, days or months down to a few seconds. Timelapse is a discipline unto its own, somewhere halfway between stills photography and videography. Timelapse offers insight into things that the human eye cannot replicate, and that often go unnoticed. We have used this technique from Flow onwards, when Felix fell in love with time lapse.

In Flow it was used to show sunsets and clouds along the Coorong and lower lakes. We wanted to instill a sense of wonder and power in nature, and time lapse was a great way to create awe inspiring imagery. It has been used since then in various projects, most recently in the BTS for When Does the Light Turn On?, where it was used to show crowds within FedSquare over time.

While you can set up a video camera, no hassles, and just press record, then speed it up in your Non-Linear Editor, time lapse with a stills camera and an intervalometer allows much more creative control, and can be implemented over much longer periods of time.

What you will need:

1 - a camera.

2 - an intervalometer (some cameras come with them inbuilt, Canon cameras unfortunately do not) or a laptop with your cameras control software installed.

3 - a tripod or some form of stabilisation.

4 - Lots of time. Time lapse reduces hours into seconds, but your probably going to have to be there for those initial hours, and some.

What to do:

Once you find your subject, and your beautiful frame, set your camera up on your tripod or stabilisation, make sure its anchored well and stable, you don’t want wind or instability ruining or adding shake to your time lapse. Don’t be afraid to spend a lot of time during this process, you’re going to have to wait around once its all set up, so its best to get it right the first time, and come away with a satisfying and beautiful time lapse.

Now you have to figure out your interval and settings. Its best to keep a couple of things in mind here. Get out your intervalometer or laptop.

What to look for:

When looking for a subject for time-lapse, keep in mind you are looking for change or motion. Whether it’s the movement of clouds, people crossing a busy intersection or the deepening shadows in a city-scape or landscape. Change and motion are what makes a beautiful timelapse. Otherwise it might as well just be a photo right?

First up, what is the duration of the event you are shooting? For the purposes of this exercise, and the writers atrocious mathematics, we’ll say it’s an even 10 minutes. Now you have to figure out how long you want your finished product to be. I generally go for around 10 seconds, of which I will only use maybe 3-6 seconds, depending on the purposes. Attention spans are short, and 6 seconds is actually exceptionally long for a single shot. Now, in Australia, 25fps is the standard for video(it differs slightly in other countries, at 24fps), which means, for every 1 second of finished product, we need 25 images.

25 x 10 = 250

10 minutes in seconds is;

10 x 60 = 600

So the duration of the event will be around 600 seconds. So I want to take a shot every;

600 / 250 = 2.4

So every 2.4 seconds I want an image.

Note; I find that in the field, if I’m taking a time lapse on the go, I will reverse engineer these numbers. I know I want 250 images for 10 seconds of time lapse to work with, then I decide my interval, depending on what kind of motion I want to capture, and then just times my interval by 250, to find out how long I’ll have to wait until it finishes.

Most intervalometers operate in the same or a similar way, having four different settings, and a start/stop button. These settings are;

Delay: Delay is the time until your time lapse starts. So maybe you want to wait 10 minutes until you start reeling off photos. Set it to 10” and your off.

Shutter: Shutter or length, controls how long your shutter is open for. You can set to 0 and it will just defer to the shutter speed setting on your camera. It generally only functions in bulb mode, and is useful for longer exposures (for smooth motion or night photography) that are harder or impossible to program into your camera.

Interval: Interval is the time in between your shots, which you calculated earlier, right?

Number: Number is the number of shots. Some intervalometers are limited to 99 shots, some to 99x99 (9801), and some 0-99, in which 0 represents infinity. You also calculated this earlier, right?

Timelapse requires a fairly strong understanding of exposure, but allows for a lot of play in regard to camera settings, particularly shutter speed. As the interval between shots is no longer 1:1 with their playback, you can start to lower your shutter speed below 1/25. You can push your shutter speeds to have your shutter open for seconds or minutes, depending on the interval and light environments. This has a profound affect on motion within your frame, making fluid motion and light trails. You’ll find that your shutter speed will have to be slightly shorter than your interval time. Otherwise the camera won’t be able to start taking the next still before the first one is done. You may want to leave a larger gap between your shutter and interval times to avoid overloading the camera and its writespeed (how fast it can record the image from the processor to you SD/CF card).

Everything else about exposure in timelapse is generally similar to the standard exposure triangle. ISO(Grain/noise), Aperture(Depth of Field), Shutter speed(motion). Generally speaking, don’t use high ISO’s in timelapse, especially for night photography, just increase your exposure time (shutter speed). This avoids unwanted noise being introduced to your images.

Note: When photographing a timelapse that changes over time, or attempting a good daytime>sunset>nightime timlapse, or the other way round, some photographers advocate using the Aperture priority mode, allowing the camera to pick the other two settings. This can nullify drastic changes in light, and sometimes introduces flicker, but is an option to consider depending on your subject matter.

Picture Quality: Depending on your purposes, you probably want to take high quality Jpegs, as opposed to RAW images. With such large numbers of photos, RAW can get unwieldy, and quickly fill up harddrive space. Its also harder to work with in post (although it can yield better results if you are attempting to grade or do effects work with it) and you will need better software/hardware to deal with a RAW workflow. High quality Jpegs from a dSLR camera are generally more than good enough to make a professional timelapse, in fact their resolution is so high that if you are outputting at 1920x1080, you can even do a ‘ken burns’ slide without losing any quality. If you have the time and resources to work with a RAW timelapse, lucky you.






Recent Project: What Privilege - The Colony Stage 1

The Colony Stage 1 - Who Comes to Visit? Exhibition, June-July 2018

This work-in-progress with Ngarrindjeri explores assimilation, treaty and bureaucracy as the logistics of empire.What is your experience of whiteness and identity in the context of Treaty and colonization? How do we want to share our limited time on this planet? How do we come to terms?

Find out more on our What Privilege site here: read more


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