The art of “lens whacking”, real lights leaks and ones done in post.

James Miller is a talented guy. Apart from designing a lot of my graphics and the background for this site he has been my right hand man on many of my UK shoots. Having a talented shooter as your right hand man makes your life so much easier. He has become synonymous with “lens whacking” which he explains about here. You can see more of James’ work on his vimeo page here. One bit of advice. This is a great and cool effect. But like all effects use them in moderation for the most impact!

After James’ article there is a link for and Lightfilth from Lens Anarchy. Both are a collection of real light leaks that you can add in post. Not the same as what James does but a cool effect and a nice cheap price of $19.99 nad £15 respectively. There is a 20% odd code right now too for 5dleaks. Details at end of post

James Miller and I

Lens Whacking, whats its all about then?

When a cameras lens is fixed firmly to a camera the only light falling on the sensor is through the lens. Thats great most of the time and when you want something different you can either add effects, layers, overlays in post. Or you can remove your entire lens.

“When you take the lens off it creates an effect, look and feeling that is totally different, you really can connect to image. Because it’s real and not added in post, it’s randomness gives a dreamlike quality. Its almost like how your mind remembers images and I love the feeling it gives. Its a romance, it really is.”

Romance of the Light from James Miller on Vimeo.

Soundtrack: Bon Iver, Holocene

Nina Naustdal – Couture / Celebrity Launch Party from James Miller on Vimeo.


How does it work?

Removing your lens is going to let a lot of light to hit the sensor. In a total wash of light there will be no image, so this has to be controlled. We you really want to achieve is a part sharp image but lots of flare and light leaks going on within the frame. This effect will wash the image with what ever light source is dominant in the scene behind the camera or to the side.

The effect is similar to a tilt and shift lens where you only get a slither of focus depth or you can manipulate the lens to allow the entire frame to be in focus.

 What do I need?

Lets say for this example you have the Canon 5Dmk2, a full frame large sensor camera.

It’s no good trying to use a Canon lens EF or FD as the distance between the rear element and sensor (The Flange distance) is too small. You need a Nikon lens, not with a Nikon to EOS mount, just the lens.

As lens whacking really needs to be created hand held on a full frame sensor a lens upto 50mm is about the limit otherwise your going to induce to much wobble, rolling shutter. On a cropped sensor 7D, 600D or Sony FS100 or Canon C300 you really need to work a 35mm lens, 50mm is doable but you have to be careful. As its very easy and cheap to buy a old E Series Nikon 50mm 1.8 (around £30-£50) I suggest you start here.

Also the E Series is pancake in construction so your hand won’t suffer from fatigue so much. If you have a non Canon lens try it out.


How do you control it?

You can control the amount of light hitting the sensor but one of two things. First is to use you hand, the hand not holding the lens and cup it over the back of the lens. You can fan your covering hand by opening your fingers, letting more light in where necessary.

Second you can adjust the focus on the lens. The standard for shooting Lens Whacking is for the lens to be set to infinity this allow just the right amount of light coming in from the gap between the lens and the body. But if you change this distance you will notice to achieve a focus you will need to keep the lens closer to the body of the camera and this closes the gap thus reducing the amount of light leaking in.

How do I Whack?

1/ Start by setting the camera to live view.

2/ Open the aperture fully on the lens and set the focus to infinity. If the lens is inherently soft wide open then stop the lens down a click, this will effect the look and structure of the ‘Bokeh’.

3/ Hold the camera body to your chest with your right hand.

4/ Pickup the lens with your left hand.

5/ Still with the left, hand hold the lens tight up to the body of the camera with your thumb and index finger whilst pinching the middle finger of your left hand, causing the lens to rock on this pinch. (This is how you change focus)

6/ Try and use your left hand palm to act as a hinge that allows the focus to be adjusted by changing the gap between the lens and the body.

7/ If your worried about dirt or dust getting on the sensor 1/ Don’t do it. 2/ Cut out some good optical quality polyester film like Melinex and fit it under the camera bodies lens mount, on top of the contact pins. Has to be good quality otherwise you will get blooming on highlights. You can also use ND filter film acting as a dust blocker and filter. (Filters on the rear of the lens are very forgiving).

Focusing will be daunting at first but practice and it will feel more natural than turing that ring, I promise.

I find when Lens Whacking on the 5D mk2 using the Zacuto Z-Finder is critical for immersing yourself in the shot and stabilising the picture. It’s just the same otherwise.

Why not just use a Lens Baby or similar toy lens?

Really the effect, look and feeling is totally different. I loose my self in the moment, you really can connect to image. Its almost how your mind remembers images and I love the feeling it gives. Its a romance, it really is. And it’s free.

How can I add Lens Whacking to my existing films?

You can’t get the full effect in post. An besides you loose the feeling. Sure you can replicated some of the look but its very post intensive. Light leaks can be achieved by shooting with you lens cap on and just Lens Whacking blank. The files produced can then be used as an overlay.

Examples I have shot on the Canon 5Dmk2:

Leuven, Belgium – Oude Markt, Terras from James Miller on Vimeo.

The Plea “Feel It Ticking” from James Miller on Vimeo.

De Madammen in Amsterdam from James Miller on Vimeo.

London Meet-up with Philip Bloom from James Miller on Vimeo.

90 Seconds in Leuven from James Miller on Vimeo.


BPM Dance Academy from James Miller on Vimeo.

San Francisco was noticed by an Belgium Director/ Music Man, Frank De Wulf. This was really a turing point for me. And for that I will forever be grateful. Thanks Frank

San Francisco from James Miller on Vimeo.

 Examples I have shot on the Sony NEX FS100:

The Plea, Live in Ghent, Belgium from James Miller on Vimeo.

Jack Campbell Vampire Weekend, Mansard Roof from James Miller on Vimeo.


20% off code for 1 week only with code philipbloom at checkout expires on 8th February 2012


LightFilth by Lens Anarchy: Trailer from Miguel Santana on Vimeo.