Shooting With a Broken Lens: Genius or Giant Mistake?

I was challenged to photograph an entire portrait shoot using a broken lens. Can a consumer-grade camera and a half-broken, old lens from eBay create anything interesting?

Recently, my husband, David, has been challenging me to use all sorts of crazy camera setups. He really caught me off guard with this one! 

The Challenge:

  • Photograph an entire portrait shoot at a "grungy" location using a Canon SL3 and a broken Kiron 24mm f/2 FD lens that David found on eBay. 

I had never shot with a broken lens before. The aperture is broken and is permanently stuck on f/2, and the focus is incredibly soft. Curiosity got the best of me, and I wanted to see if I could work some portrait magic with this wonky setup.

I really took the idea of a "grungy" location to heart and found an abandoned Burger King that was covered in graffiti to photograph at. It became my artistic playground for this camera challenge. 

I always like to build out a loose storyline for all of my shoots because it helps me turn my subjects into characters and inspires my mind to come up with more interesting poses. The concept for this shoot was "Open For Business." I had my model, Justin, pose proudly and confidently in front of this abandoned fast-food restaurant as if he were posing for an article in the local paper announcing his latest business triumph. I love the irony the grungy setting created.

Shooting with the Canon SL3 didn't feel unusual, considering my usual workhorse is the Canon 5D Mark IV. Sure, the SL3 is smaller and lighter, with fewer fancy features, but it held up like a champ for this portrait session.

The broken Kiron 24mm f/2 FD lens was a completely different story! It was almost impossible to get anything in focus. I really had to take my time to get things as sharp as I could, but even then, things were still pretty soft. I photographed on a pretty sunny day, though, which created some interesting effects. 

Image courtesy of Jada and David Parrish |

Overall, I think this was a really fun way to shoot. It created some grungy, gritty effects that I was not expecting. Focusing the lens was incredibly hard. I'm not sure if that was because it is broken or if that is just how the lens is. I discovered the closer I was to the subject, the sharper I could get the images. When I photographed farther away from the subject, focusing was pretty much impossible. I didn't really mind, though. I actually feel like it perfectly complemented the overall vibe and tone of the shoot. What do you think?!

Jada Parrish's picture

Jada is a photographer and director specializing in conceptual portraits. Her work is known for its bold, colorful, and surreal style. Her creative style of portraiture lends itself nicely to work in both fashion and the music industry. She is one half of the creative duo Jada + David.

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1 Comment

Thats pretty cool. It might have been interesting to use unsharp mask to greatly over sharpen the images to give it sort of cognitive dissonance feel. You know , like blurry but also sharp. I get that same feel in the colors. Overall the image looks like it should be a bit faded and desaturated but his clothes are quite saturated and nearly pop out of the image. That's a good thing.