Photo Tip: Using a Tilt-Shift Lens on Washington Square

posted on: March 11, 2014

One of my favorites images from this weekend was tilting the focal plane to focus all the way up 5th Ave from Washington Square....
(I don't do many art prints, but I love this one so much that if you'd like a copy, contact me with the size you'd like and I'll send you a paypal invoice for your own special edition signed print. ;-))


The Tilt-Shift lens was originally designed to simulate what a bellows can do on a large format camera, which has historically been used most often in architectural photography, but with DSLRs this technique has also gained popularity for use as special effect photography, like miniaturizing a scene from above with a shallow plane of focus not usually possible at such focal distances.


If you haven't used a Tilt-Shift lens before, here are some basic tips of how you might use it:

What Does Shifting Do?
The "Shift" allows the camera to get a vantage point higher and lower, or further right and left than the actual camera position, without moving the camera.  This is great for when you're at the top of your tri-pod but just need a little extra vantage point, or you're on a rooftop and need your vantage point to be just a little lower without hanging your camera from a ledge.  It's also ideal for creating panoramic images when shifting from side to side and stitching together later without needing to do any additional barrel distortion corrections, because it's basically just adding width to either end of the lens.  This can also help in situations where there's street traffic in front of a building, you can shift your vantage point up to basically eliminate it from the frame without cutting off the bottom of the building.

What Does Tilting Do?
The tilt's main objective is to tilt the focal plane from being parallel to the sensor, to being at an angle from the sensor.  At the extremes of the tilt spectrum, you can end up with a thin line of focus to infinity in just one slice of your image at a much lower f-stop than is possible without a tilt lens.  Most often now the tilt function is used to blur distracting elements that would normally fall on the same plane as a subject, or create the miniature images from focal distances that generally don't make a shallow depth of field possible.  The images in this post and yesterday's were mostly using the Tilt function to create different planes of focus.

Can You Tilt and Shift at the Same Time?
While it's possible to both Tilt and Shift at the same time, the results really aren't going to be as great as if you're just using one function rather than both at the same time because with every exaggerated movement, you're also creating more distortion in the image and letting more light into the camera.  There's a little metal button on the side of the lens that you push to spin the lens element into portrait or landscape mode depending on how you want to tilt or shift the lens- you can even tilt or shift at a diagonal if you'd like, and the lens element will lock the lens in where you'd like.

How Do You Focus a TS Lens?
Because of the mechanics of the lens, there's no auto-focus capability.  You must manually focus the lens and use your eye as a gauge for sharpness with confirmation from your camera's AF points.  Unlike other lenses, you can generally see what's going to be in focus right in the lens, however it can be slightly difficult to distinguish exactly how much will be on the plane of focus depending on your aperture, which is why you should know your focal length math for greatest accuracy.

How Do You Get Accurate Exposures with a TS Lens?
Anytime you tilt or shift the lens, there are light leaks into the lens and the sensor, which means that your camera's meter won't read correctly when you're shifted or tilted.  You can get the closest exposure with your in-camera light meter when the tilt and the shift are set to "0" on the lens- at which point you would set your exposure settings in Manual mode before tilting or shifting to retain proper exposure.

What TS Lens Focal Length Should I Use?
Tilt-Shift lenses only come in prime focal lengths due to the mechanical structure, so if you're going to be using one, you'll need to choose the best focal length for your needs.  The images I've shared here are all from a Canon 45mm TS-E lens which works best if you have some distance between you and your subject, or are using it for more street photography, full size portraits, or product photography.  I've used this lens to get all the flowers down the aisle of a dark church in focus at f/2.8, but it's not wide enough to photograph the Chrysler building when you're on the same street.  The 17mm would be the ideal lens for dramatic sweeping landscape images or shooting ridiculously tall buildings from one street away, the 24mm would be great for interior architecture or photographing smaller buildings and exteriors like homes, and the 90mm would be best for macro or small product photography.  One tip for finding images taken with a particular lens is to search the Flickr catalog of images by the lens name.  There's often either a group dedicated to featuring the lens, or the lens info will show up in the EXIF metadata of images.

Want a little more explanation?  Here are some decent YouTube videos on the topic:

Demonstration of using the Tilt-Shift Lens:

Demonstration of creating a DIY bellows for Tilt-Shift effect:

1 comments, to add [click here]:

  1. The tilt shift lens is not something that you can do easily and it is quite complicated. I've seen architectural photographers Boston do this with ease, but when I tried it, you can say that it is very hard for beginners like me.


Popular Posts

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Ask Anne All rights reserved © Blog Milk Powered by Blogger