Meet the Lens Bits

A few of you Instagrammers have been curious to see the lens bits I use for my work - your wait is over! Here are some of my most-used pieces, viewed from the top, upside down, and sideways:


The big two in the top row are the easiest, I guess you could say; there is minimal fussing to bend light and achieve results. Most of the fireworks shots are from those two, as it's easy to work fast and not worry about dropping the darn things. Also, the shots with aperture cutout shapes are from these ones, as the cardboard discs fit inside and stay put.

The second row, starting on the left:

1) "the one that works with neon signs" - notably challenging shape to hold and try to limit light leak. It makes big graceful swoops of the light, and depending on which way you hold it, also does interesting 3D distortions.

2) "little bitsy" - tiny, challenging to hold, wonderful spherical exploding-planet effects. Flip it the other way and it makes cup shapes with pretty intense amounts of light leak because it's so awkwardly small. I'm considering attaching this one to a stick to make it easier to manage.

3) "pointy" - aptly named for both its spindly shape and the pointed peaks of light it produces. This one is quite fun, as the effects of it vary significantly with the degree and direction of tilt. I've gone out with just this piece and returned with a surprising variety of images from just a few locations. 

4) "oh, wait, not that one." - ...uh, I shouldn't have included this one. It was in the bits bag with the others and, just like *every time* I go out, I forgot about it and how useless it is, only for it to surface again and earn its name. This is a routine occurrence in the experimental process - I test bits out in different locations, sometimes one that was useless before just needed different conditions to be interesting. I haven't yet discovered the conditions that makes this one interesting. Eventually? Maybe? Who knows.

5) "soft blobs" / "finger painting" - this is one that, like #4 above, proved kind of useless for a while until I found the right circumstances, and now it's a regular. It does the soft textured egg-shaped-blobs (or "makeup sponges" as Instagrammer @m.apparition sees 'em) as well as the finger painting shwoops, birds, and other mysterious shapes. It is also fairly close-focusing, in the general scheme of the bits, which is nice. (A couple metres for this one, vs anywhere from 50 to 100+ metres for the others. It's hard to tell, I am not a great estimator of distance.)

There are a few other lesser-used bits that I don't have in the bits bag, but might show at some point. They're the ones that are interesting in one way but aren't all that versatile, so haven't been in rotation for a while. I find that going out with only one or two bits helps me discover deeper capabilities of each - apply constraints, and creative solutions arise.

So, there you have it, the strangely-shaped chunks of glass I use to make strangely-shaped blobs of light. With the exception of the two big bits with the facing info ring still attached, I couldn't tell you what kind of lens each came from. I disassembled over 15 lenses and have a sizeable box of parts remaining, some of which require hacksaw action to harvest the remaining elements for testing. If you're curious to try this stuff out for yourself, I wish you happy disassembly, and happy experimenting! May patience be on your side.

The Challenge of Fireworks


Over the span of my creative life, I've come to realize one very pertinent thing: I enjoy a challenge. Fireworks? Huge challenge. A fast paced, intense, enormously fun and slightly frustrating challenge. The composition is next to impossible and is more an exercise in chance than anything else; it forces me to think quickly about adjusting settings and hones my understanding of the best combinations for the situation; it's loud and chaotic and unpredictable and almost meditative in the necessity to be very much in the present moment with whatever is going on. 

I love it. 

There is something humbling and magical in the process and the unpredictability - sifting through the 300+ images from a half-hour event and knowing that a handful of shots might be good, but having little idea about the rest of them. If you were following my Instagram account in August, you'll have seen the range of "wow!" and "hm, interesting..." that resulted from our local fireworks festival this past summer. What I didn't show are some of the shots that didn't make the cut. I find it important to show the failures as well as the successes in this experimental realm - seeing the end results, it might seem like there is a high success rate to this, but in reality it's about 3% for the wow shots and about 10% for the very interesting. I don't know about other artists' and photographers' success rates; perhaps theirs are higher when working with more predictable mediums and less haphazardly shifting subject matter. For me, though, the process of such wild variation is what makes this work so engaging. Shoot a lot, keep putting your skills to work, enjoy the process, and maybe chance will shine through the chaos with a success or two. Some of the failures are amusing, though, like this one: 

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It's not worth printing or perhaps even posting, but it made me laugh. A total miss. Fantastic! Here are some others, picked at random:


They're kiiiiiiinda interesting, but not quite. I have a lot of these. Hundreds. I keep them. Why? The first sorting is where the "wow!" shots leap out, but go back months later with fresh eyes and new experiences, and other shots speak in new ways. Like this last one - overlooked the first time, but with new experiences in the intervening months, it has a peculiar calmness that appeals to me. That blue in particular. Magic.

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Well Hello There! (an introduction)


Greetings! Welcome to the #experimentaloptics blog. Here I hope to regularly share more details about favourite images, experiments, behind-the-scenes tidbits, etc. 

First I'd like to talk a bit about how and why I do what I do.

The light painting I do uses environmental light sources - by that I mean lights in the immediate environment, whether that is city street lights, traffic, Christmas lights, fireworks - and various pieces of disassembled lenses to transform ordinary illumination into shapes and swaths of colour. It is a relatively unpredictable process as every lens bit is different and every light source is different, as is my physical relationship to the light through where I stand and how I hold my camera and the lens piece. Of all the photography I have done in my life, it is by far the most simultaneously exciting and frustrating... but frustrating in a *good* way, if that makes sense. It is a continual process of curious discovery and re-contextualizing the immediate world.

I've always had an interest in photography and an urge to capture a different view of my world, but in my youth it was cost-prohibitive to experiment with film, and digital photography wasn't around yet. (And I'm not too skilled at painting or drawing.) Over the years I've had several point-and-shoot compact cameras, have borrowed DSLRs, have tried film photography, and have always felt somewhat limited by the conventionality of the image results and exclusivity of the systems - compact cameras are what they are; DSLRs are delicate, expensive tools; film is counterproductive when one seeks immediate answers to "what happens if..." tests. But a few years ago it became financially approachable to acquire gear that could be treated as cavalierly as necessary in order to explore my imagination's whims. Mirrorless digital camera technology changed my life - the simplicity of an analog film system without the delicate-high-tech exclusivity of DSLR systems, perfect! I could experiment without fear of breaking tiny and vital moving parts! 

Adapting vintage lenses was the start, and I quickly fell into disassembling non-functional lenses and re-assembling their components to create new lenses that highlighted optical distortions, or otherwise captured the natural world from a new viewpoint. I love macro photography to view details in a new way - the object itself might be unremarkable, but look very closely at this one tiny magnificent little bit, and your perception of the whole is altered. 

My explorations into experimental photography are also explorations into a larger life philosophy - to, quite literally, view the world through an unconventional lens. I've always been a bit on the outside of life, not one for conventionality and frequently finding ways to quietly subvert the normal way of things, bend the rules, approach differently. Find new perspectives and processes. My career up to this point in life has been one of creatively solving problems in a technological medium; I also have training as a counsellor, which is creatively solving problems and finding new perspectives in an emotional medium. Abstract photography, light painting, light bending, all these experiments are the visual manifestation of learning to see the world differently, through new perspectives. Reframed, re-contextualized. I want to inspire people to look at their worlds through new lenses - to know that it is OK to break with conventionality and tread new territory. It is frequently frustrating, there are plenty of failures along the way, but there are also discoveries in those attempts and even small discoveries lead to new ideas. 

So, that's where I'm at. Join me on the journey as I explore further into this wilderness of creativity and abstraction. I post daily on Instagram - @mcarsience_photography - there you'll see a more up-to-date stream of images, whereas here on the blog it will be less frequent but more in-depth chatter about specific images, approach, discovery, and philosophy. 

*About the image in this post: Van Dusen Gardens does a magnificent holiday light-up each winter here in Vancouver, and a few weeks ago I went with my camera and several lens bits and froze my toes off (not literally) in a very productive couple of hours. I'd recently found a new ability of one of the bits where it becomes sort of like finger painting - a digit or two obstructing part of the lens changes the input dramatically, making new shapes and in this case making fire birds / waves out of Christmas lights. This is one of my top favourites so far. The waves are so vivid, the gradient so vibrant, and the light leaking in around my hand adds another dynamic layer.