Unthink Photography: Shooting with a Plastic Lens

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There seems to be a lot of emphasis in photography in today’s world on getting our photographs as sharp as we can. People have the notion that we need to be able to see the individual blades of grass or the pores on a persons skin in order for us to have a “good” photograph. The rise in popularity of HDR (high dynamic range) photography has probably contributed to why people feel this way, I mean a well done HDR photo is pretty cool to look at. While there is absolutely nothing wrong aiming to take photos like these I think it is important to remember that this is not the only way. That is why I love shooting with plastic lenses.

Plastic lenses don’t do quite as good a job at bending light as glass lenses do. Because of this, photos shot with a plastic lens will come out with a softer focus. See below for some of my own photos show with a plastic lens on film.


If you have ever used on of those one-time use cameras back in the day (or even recently, they are still around) then you may be a little familiar with this. This soft focus gives your images a sort of “dreamlike” quality to them which can result in some fun and interesting results. The real fun in using one of these lenses comes with the freedom you feel when you are no longer striving for technical perfection when taking your photos. You know your images aren’t going to come out perfect so you stop thinking about that. Instead, you pay more attention to what you are shooting, the compositions, the moments you are capturing, the stories you are creating.


Where can you find lenses like these? Well like I mentioned above you can still purchase a one-time use camera, however I think there are way better options out there for relatively close to the same price. My favorite plastic lens is attached to my Holga camera. These are cheap plastic cameras that are known for their unpredictability, they cause random light leaks and vignettes on your photos . Half the fun of shooting with this camera is the not knowing how your shots will turn out. The images above were shot with one of these cameras. Other than the Holga, there is the Diana F which is basically the same thing, although thanks to hipsters making them “trendy” they are nearly twice the price (stupid hipsters). Both these cameras require you to use film so if that is something you are not interested you have other options. You can actually purchase plastic lenses made by Holga for your DLSR, and for pretty cheap, less than $30. I have never used one of these my self but have seen some of their results, pretty cool.

Don’t want to spend any cash but want to try shooting with a plastic lens? Here is a neat DIY self photo hack. With you lens hood attached to your camera, secure some saran warp over your lens with a rubber band.

While no to exactly the same as using an actual plastic lens, the saran wrap will soften the light and create a softer focus. See my photos below, the one on the left was shot with the saran wrap on, and the one on the right was shot with the camera’s normal glass lens.  You can see the one with the saran wrap (left) comes out softer and more “dreamlike” compared to the one on the right.


So there you have it. Want to try something different with your photography? Try shooting with a plastic lens and see how much fun the results can be.



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