Homemade Lenses, Anyone?

Mar 3, 2010
Photographer News


Fred Licht makes his own lenses (a lot of work!) , and some of his images appear in an LA show opening tomorrow at Affinity Galleries, running through April.

Licht discusses why he decided to take on this technical endeavor in the first place :

At my website, you will notice a portfolio entitled “Proprietary Optics”. These are images created with lenses that I have designed and built myself. Some of these images are from assignments where I have been hired specifically because of these lenses. Other images are personal work or personal exploration with these lenses.


My desire to explore optics as a creative tool began with my longstanding interest in 19th century photography. Many of the images from that period have a distinct “look” (as well as other sensibilities) and I began by purchasing lenses from that period of time. I quickly realized that this was not giving me the look that I wanted and I began to research the field of photographic optics. It turns out that nearly all of the lenses that we use today (with the exception of zoom lenses and a few other formulas) were designed in the 19th century and have not really changed. I came to understand that the optical designers of the 19th century, the leading physicists of their time, had been given the task to create lenses that were, technically speaking, as perfect as possible.

Interestingly, many of the leading photographers of the 19th and early 20th Centuries then sought to counteract this “perfection” and devised techniques to make their images less technically accurate and more emotionally grounded. They did this, primarily, through printing techniques, breaking down the image after it was created in the camera, though some did this through optical means as well. I decided to take a more radical approach and alter the optics themselves. I decided to start from scratch, did a great deal of research, and began to create optics that had a more emotional appeal without concern for technical “perfection”.

I have since built four optics, all designed to work on a 4X5 camera, where each has a particular signature. The image is created in the camera, and none of the “effects” are done in postproduction. If I had more time to work with this, I would build more lenses (and use the ones that I have already made!), but this remains an ongoing interest for me.

Here’s one of his lenses:


Fred also shoots with “normal” lenses to capture his architectural and travel subjects:



You can see more on his website.

-Neil Binkley

Tags: architectural fine art photography fred licht los angeles travel