The New Lomography Petzval Lens can create photos with truly beautiful Bokeh. Get it right and your shots will be bursting with wonderful out-of-focus areas. But to reach the level of swirly skill you aspire to, you must first learn Zen-like control over the lens and how best to get this amazing effect. Read these tips and you will be well on the way to Bokeh and other enlightenments!
Open your mind (and your aperture) for shallow depth of field
One of the best ways to master the unique swirly bokeh of the Petzval Lens is to use a large aperture such as f/2.2 or f/2.8. By opening up the aperture, your subject will be in focus and other elements will be blurred.
Set a good distance between your subject and the background
Having a good distance between your subject and background is a great trick for getting that luscious swirl in your Petzval shots. With more space between them, the distinction between your in-focus elements and blurred elements will be more pronounced.
Have a good amount of space around your subject
If there isn’t a lot of space around your subject, then you’re limiting the area in your image for bokeh to work its mysterious magic. So remember to put a good distance between you (the photographer) and the object of your photographic desire so bokeh has its space to shine.
Shoot in front of high contrast and textured natural backgrounds.
Natural backgrounds with high contrasts and texture are great for producing the Petzval swirly bokeh. By ‘textured’ natural backgrounds, we are talking about backgrounds such as trees, woodland, foliage and water in particular.
Shoot objects on patterned backgrounds.
We have seen amazing results from petzval portrait photographs taken against backgrounds with interesting, ornate patterns such as curtains and fabric. With this kind of petzval photo, you’ll get the swirly bokeh effect on the pattern you shoot against.
Shoot objects arranged at different Focal Distances
The Petzval swirly bokeh effect is strong when you shoot a photo with objects arranged at lots of different distances. For example, if you take a photo of a busy street scene in which your portrait subject is in the foreground and numerous other points of interest at other, varying focal distances, then it is easier to get the swirly bokeh effect.
Experiment with different Aperture Plate Designs
As well as using the ‘regular’ circular aperture designs which come with the New Lomography Petzval Lens, you can also use other shape apertures. By using other aperture shapes, you can get different styles of Bokeh in your Petzval photos. The shape cut into your aperture plate will appear in your photo anywhere in which bright points of light are out of focus. So if you use a star-shape aperture plate, the out of focus bright points in your image will be a star shape – It’s a pretty fun trick!
Get ultra-sharp and crisp photos by closing your aperture
So far, our tips have focused on how best to achieve bokeh. But, of course, it may be that you don’t want to get such extreme bokeh or out-of-focus areas in a particular image. The New Petzval Lens is also fantastic for giving crisp photos when you shoot with a smaller aperture. Despite utilizing an optical design from 2 centuries ago, the New Petzval can compete with the very best modern SLR lenses for giving crisp photos. To get this kind of sharp shot, simply close your aperture by using an aperture plate with higher F-number (such as f.8 or higher).
Shooting outdoors during the daytime? Use a low ISO
In order to use the largest aperture plate (f/2.2) which comes with the New Petzval lens, you may need to use a low ISO film or low ISO setting to avoid overexposure under direct sun light. A low ISO is one such as ISO 100.
If for some reason you can't use a low ISO film or setting, and you are using a camera body which doesn’t have a very fast shutter speed, you can use an ND filter to reduce the amount of incoming light to your lens and camera. You can still use the largest aperture plate. This technique is commonly used by large format photographers when shooting with older Petzval lenses.
When you shoot with a large aperture such as f/2.2, the lens has a very narrow depth of field, which means you have to be accurate with your focusing to hit the in-focus sweet spot.
To help get your subject fully in focus, we recommend roughly focusing to begin with by turning the focusing wheel on the lens. Then, before you take your shot, look through the camera viewfinder and move your body a bit back and forward to get fully accurate focusing. This is a technique often used by Macro photographers who want to be as accurate as possible with focusing. If you are shooting with a digital camera, we also recommend shooting in burst mode whilst making these slight movements back and forth; this will help ensure that one of your shots is razor sharp in the centre.
If you are taking a Petzval portrait photo, the best thing to do is focus on your subject’s eyes and use this focusing technique to get their eyes as crisp and sharp as possible.