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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Experimenting With Perspective

It’s time to get creative in the unique world of the tilt-shift lens

This Article Features Photo Zoom

1 Swings, tilts and shifts have been employed by nature photographers since long before Ansel Adams explored the dramatic vistas of Yosemite. Often used to correct vertical lines or add subtle emphasis to a foreground element, these controls are now being used to more creative effect.
Instead of maximizing depth of field, you can experiment with minimizing it, and you can control the plane of focus quite precisely. Mounting tilt-shift or perspective-control lenses on your DSLR gives you the freedom to get creative.

Tilt-shift shooting is different than the typical approach to imagery. It's fun, and it can lend an interesting, artistic and quirky look to your images. It may be the tool that helps you see many of the same old shots in a new way. Lenses that can shift and tilt up and down and side to side initially were created for architectural photographers looking to counter the distortion that occurs when pointing a camera up or down (called keystoning or pincushion distortion). When you're pointing your camera up or down, you'll notice in your images that vertical lines/shapes tend to lean forward or backward. The solution, unless you're shooting with a large-format view camera, is a tilt-shift lens (Canon lenses with this ability are called T-S, or Tilt-Shift, while Nikon lenses are called PC, or Perspective Control; I'm primarily a Canon shooter, so I tend to use the term tilt-shift).

PC-E Micro Nikkor 85mm ƒ/2.8D
With its ability to actually shift one's angle of view up or down, a tilt-shift lens gives you the ability to "see" up or down without pointing your camera that way. This means that vertical lines actually appear vertical! The practical applications of this small, but indispensable category of specialized lenses have been known among professional photographers for years, but they haven't been as widely used for creative effects. By tilting the plane of focus, you can achieve a miniaturized, or what I call a "snow-globe," effect, in which the image has a blurred, dreamlike or soft-focus feel while a narrow slice of the image remains sharp. This look has become trendy, and it's fun to experiment with it, but for nature photographers, it's most effective when not overutilized and when done correctly.

The questions, then, are when and why to tilt-shift? Here's my look at how to use a lens that will change the way you see and shoot.

Canon TS-E 24mm ƒ/3.5L II
Visual Impact/Subject Isolation
Tilt-shift lenses are a fantastic manifestation of the power of selective focus. Many times, I'll be shooting wide-angle imagery where I'm unable to achieve the very shallow depth of field that I'd like to separate the subject from its surroundings. With this creative tilt application, a tilt-shift lens essentially allows you to take horizontal or vertical "slices" of your image and render them sharp, while the remainder of the image retains a dreamlike or blurred effect.

Without the use of a tilt-shift lens in many of these images, the subject would be completely lost in the frame. By using the tilt-shift effect, I'm able to provide a huge amount of context in my photographic frame and still draw the focus directly to the activity or subject that I initially intended to be the anchor of the image.

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