Lens Cap Photography is Making a Comeback

Lens Cap Photography is Making a Comeback

It turns out that an avant-garde camera technique from the 1960s has found its way back into the hearts of today's Instagram generation of photographers. Lens capping is the act of purposely creating an extreme underexposure (EUE) by leaving the lens cap on.

While underexposing an image or exposing to the left (ETTL) is nothing new to most of us, "lens capping" as it is being called, is. Most of us think of a lens cap as a protection layer for the expensive glass on our lenses. While this is the primary role of these advanced logo bearing discs, it is not the only way to utilize them.

A number of outside the box photographers have started taking artistic shots featuring the back side of the cap. The recent revitalization occurred after some old rolls of film were found in an unearthed time capsule and developed. The images were all exactly the same featuring a beautiful and rich dark black. An accompanying notebook explained the many wonderful adventures the photographer had been on and described in vivid detail each scene where a photo had been taken.

The perfect blackness of the photos along with the mind's ability to imagine details resulted in an entirely new and exciting form of photography.

Besides being unique and beautiful, photos captured using the lens capping technique work well regardless of what f/stop, shutter speed, or ISO you use. Another bonus is that very little post-production is ever needed for these images and they look equally good from the cheapest to the most expensive camera out there. This makes it fun and enjoyable for beginners still mastering their camera settings. To get the shot though you will probably have to turn off your autofocus. Fear not though, there are a number of videos on YouTube covering that complex process so we will not get into that here.

Have you ever tried your hand at lens capping or possible pitch black photography? Share your results in the comments. Next week we will be covering (or not covering for that matter) overexposing to pure white.

Log in or register to post comments
Rob Davis's picture

I hate this day.

chrisrdi's picture

Worst day of the year. Even worse than Christmas (worked retail for too long) :/

Carl Murray's picture

I remember when April Fools was funny and played pranks on friends., Now it just seems like it's a corporate playground of "safe" jokes.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

If it is any consolation I got my son and wife with a water cup on top of the bedroom door trick. :)

chrisrdi's picture

You sir have kept to the traditions of April first! You must pass on your knowledge and understanding of such a critical day of the year. This is a heavy burden I know, but this must be done! For the greater good!

Wayne Cunningham's picture

Any advice on scanner settings? I use an Epson V600 and have found my lens back negative scans resulting in a total black that's not quite the total black I'd like.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

It could be the lighting. Try looking at it under a blacklight.

Deleted Account's picture

Spotted a hot pixel there when zoomed in 700%

Michael B. Stuart's picture

You have received your encoded mission then. Good luck!

jeff schwartz's picture

Need to try that again. Did a lot of that back in my flim days.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

The camera LCD won't do the blacks justice. They look better on screen, and even better in print with a final over glossing of sharpie marker.

Ian Fraser's picture

I try to avoid images that use all my black ink in a single print. Lens capping is another Elitist form that only Leica Lawyers and Roli hipsters will master.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

It's my black ink, Ian. And I'll do what I like with it.

D Porter's picture

I've only had complete success with this technique in the first days of April, especially the first day, but only then after sunrise and 1.2 hours before sunset, an exposure time of 41.19 seconds is absolutely critical. I've heard, all though it's not confirmed, that the mirror-less cameras have yet to show their superiority to DSLR cameras. Thanks for posting this Michael!

Michael B. Stuart's picture

I actually added a mirror to a mirrorless camera once and time instantly froze for a split second.

D Porter's picture

Incidentally, I've had trouble printing lens cap shots on my Epson... Too much photo black was being used. Anybody know how to shift the print to use photo matte instead?

Michael B. Stuart's picture

My bad, Epson printers actually standardized on very dark grey and are absent of a true black completely. I should have specified.

D Porter's picture

And remember, people at weddings and at the studio are mean! They shame you after noting the lens cap is still on!! Too bad our clients don't understand real art.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

#misunderstood #behindtheplastic

mark wilkins's picture

I just did one. I think I see Jesus in it. Can I sell it for $150,000 ?

Michael B. Stuart's picture

If you do I believe I take a cut. Only fair. We have the time stamp and everything.

Matthias Kirk's picture

Been lenscapping for years. What nobody knows: I've been nutscaping at the same time all along. Muhahahaha.....

olivier borgognon's picture

I admire those photographers doing Lens capping, the perfect combination of the exposure triangle and the sublime composition, pieces of art.

For my part I am really at this point in time poor at lens Capping, however I have discovered another technique which might bring many happy returns to fellow photographers... it's called UnCarding.

To do so, ensure you take your camera, your favourite lens, and leave your card on your desk, that's key to the success of the amazing images you'll bring back. Then, go out on a hike or a great event, may it be even better with a fantastic trip across the world, and take great pride in shooting, composing, doing long exposures, and planning your next most amazing image.

Finally, the apogee of the creative process is to UnShow them once you get home, with the utmost extreme feeling of accomplishment.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

I actually thought about taking this angle. I mean technically you get that 3-second preview of what you would have captured if there was a card. Think of the hard drive space you would save.

Ian Smith's picture

The images used in this article are clearly over-exposed and amateur in my book.

Happy A1!

Michael B. Stuart's picture

I blame your monitor/phone/tablet/printout.

Alexander Damisch's picture

Resolution and DR is clearly too low. Would have looked much better with a Sony!

Michael B. Stuart's picture

Do you mean a Sony lens cap or camera body? ;)

Jason Frels's picture

Should I use LENR or do I need to take some black and white frames to average out?

I was thinking to try my hand at an HDR lens-capped picture and then crank all the dial to make it look like a cartoon.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

Good call, bracketing will yield some really great blacks and shadows.

Peter Nord's picture

Now I didn't try it, but I think all you folks are drylabbing it (does that have two bs) Don't you remember the little note in the camera manual about long exposures needing the view finder window to be blocked as some light can enter that opening.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

You are probably right!

Michael B. Stuart's picture

Sorry, but there are no e's.

Timothy Roper's picture

Thanks for reminding me of that one photo shoot where I was using a rangefinder for some shots, and forgot to take the cap off when I switched lenses (and the model didn't think to say anything). It's going to haunt me into the afterlife.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

The model thought you were a true pro rocking the advanced lens capping a portrait technique.

JetCity Ninja's picture

nice one, dad.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

I showed the article to my 9-year-old. He said "why are those example images all black?" Then he got it. :)

Deleted Account's picture

Just starting to learn Photoshop in school. Could be a good challenge to fix these up. What are they supposed to look like?

Michael B. Stuart's picture

I hit the enhance button on my keyboard and got this:

Elgin Kreska's picture

I tried this with a polarizing lens. But it was a different diameter and I had to use adapter rings that seem to have caused vignetting. Does anyone know if Lightroom will fix this?

Michael B. Stuart's picture

Holding Shift-Command-Option-CTRL-Fn followed by triple tapping Caps Lock should fix that up.

Rod Kestel's picture

Always shoot in RAW so you can correct the black in post. And can you recommended any photoshop pluggins?

Michael B. Stuart's picture

Blacktastic by Dark Shadowland is pretty solid.

Larry Clay's picture

Great article! I had to go right out after reading this to try it out.

I don't know what I am doing wrong but I can't seem to get the framing right. It is night here, do I need to wait till daytime? If so, do I need to change my exposure? Any help would be appreciated.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

I think you have the camera upside down, again, Larry. But fear not, you can rotate in post.

Dave F's picture

This is where proper marketing comes in. "Lens capping" doesn't sound very elegant. I'll call my image, "midnight... in the black forest, during the new moon, with no flashlight". And it'll still probably be more authentic than "Moonlit Dreams".

4/1 represent. ;)

Michael B. Stuart's picture

Ahhh, sweet moonlit "sooc" dreams... lol

Patrik Uytterhoeven's picture

My dad had even a better technique. The don't put a film roll technique. No post-processing at all. No storage problems. No film roll swapping. No degrading of colours.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

Foolproof! Although, if you coupled that WITH lens capping you'd really have something.

Ole Henrik Skjelstad's picture

Tried a 5 min exposure, but it resulted in clipped highlights. Not unlikely that I should have used a soft grad filter. Will try again.

More comments