Anamorphic lenses are mostly used by cinematographers to get a ratio of 2.40:1. The cinematic look these lenses offer has become popular amongst photographers lately. While such a wide ratio is not very practical for most genres, the squeezed bokeh and the unique flare these optics create is a way to stand out amongst the competition.
The first photographer I saw using anamorphic lenses was Sam Hurd. It got me very curious because I had never heard of them before. Intrigued as I was, I then discovered how much they cost. At around $850 for the cheapest 1.33x anamorphic adapters, or $800 for a 1.9x-2x lens, I thought it was a bit too much for something I would only use a few times a year. If you shoot video regularly, it might be worth the money. But as a photographer, I would rather spend this amount on a solid lens or a plane ticket. I didn’t regret not making the investment when I found that the look can almost be recreated with less than $10.
The first thing that can be noticed with anamorphic lenses, after the change of ratio, is the bokeh. Because of the image is squeezed by these optics, the out of focus parts of the picture are rendered differently. It will be more oval rather than circular.
The same effect can be achieved using a simple sheet of black paper. Ever seen those cheap-looking shots with heart or star-shaped bokeh? I am sure you have. Well, the principle is similar. Instead of cutting a heart or a star in a piece of paper, just create an oval and place it in front of your lens!
Something else most people find interesting in the anamorphic lenses are the flares they create. The optics not being spherical, they render the flare differently. Many software and plugins try to emulate it, however, there’s no better way than to get it right in camera.
Several solutions are available. The first would be to buy a filter from Schneider. But, going for $215 up to $630 it is still quite expensive, and it might actually be better to invest directly in an anamorphic lens or adapter.
The two other solutions I know of are much cheaper and easier to achieve. One of them was shown in the video above. Simply using a fishing wire and placing it vertically, straight, in front of the lens. Note that different wires will yield different results, so feel free to play around and try multiple ones.
For the third technique, you will need to scratch a UV filter with sandpaper. You can take advantage of the different roughness of the sandpaper to achieve a more or less subtle effect. You don’t have to make the streaks across the whole filter either. This way you can get something different than with the wires.
Now, if it pains you to scrape a filter, there is always the very cheap solution of scratching a piece of acrylic, or like the video below shows, a CD tray.
With all this, you are now ready to go out and pretend to be J.J. Abrams on your next shoot! Although these techniques work perfectly, bear in mind they are not the real thing, and do not truly replace an anamorphic lens. But have fun anyways!