While tilt-shift lenses can be used for both practical and extreme purposes, they also can be utilized to increase your image file size and creativity in unexpected ways
By Marc Muench
Flowing water in the Paria River in Paria Canyon, Utah, another example of the interesting perspectives possible by combining multiple images in Photoshop.
How It Works
Tilt-shift lenses are designed to shift on a rotating plane, allowing the lens element to slide left/right or up/down. There’s a metal clip that releases tension, so the lens can be rotated to alter its position by 90 degrees. The front element is also capable of tilting, allowing one to alter the plane of focus. This feature isn’t necessary, but I use it when I need to maintain focus from something very close to the lens all the way to infinity.
I had Canon modify my tilt-shift lens by rotating the front element so that it would tilt on the same axis as the shift, allowing me to tilt vertically when lowering the lens. This was the most used movement when I shot with a large-format field camera. The lens comes from Canon with the tilt opposed to the shift, a setting mainly used when shooting architecture.
My introduction to stitching occurred several years ago when George Lepp demonstrated his method of creating panoramic images. George manually combined multiples of either scanned film or digitally captured image files with no visible defects. Digital stitching is both efficient and easy to use in automatic mode. The beauty of stitching together two image files that are taken from one lens without moving the camera is that they stitch together perfectly.
Once I’ve found a composition that requires two exposures (both up and down or side to side), I expose the images in manual mode at one focus point. This can be a useful creative method to obtain either a square format or a slightly panoramic composition.
I prefer exposing RAW files to utilize every possible technical advantage there is with digital. The steps are simple in Photoshop, but I’m sure there are other software programs that would suffice.
In Adobe Bridge, I highlight the two files and open them in Camera Raw. I make sure the files have the same settings so they will stitch together perfectly. To do so, I choose Select All and then Synchronize. After clicking OK, I click Done. Back in Bridge, I click on the Tools option in the menu bar and scroll down to Photoshop and then to Photomerge.
An autumn forest in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, diffuses light toward the camera.
Photomerge opens a dialog box prompting me to choose a method for joining the image files. I’ve had great success with the automatic choice. This generates a canvas with the two files joined and two separate layers, including masks. When I confirm that the files are perfectly stitched (by viewing the joined area at 100 percent), I flatten the file and crop any white border.
For my Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, the combined file size is between 60 and 65 MB. It’s even better using a Canon EOS 20D or 30D, as the combined file size is about 45 MB.
This method of "building a composition" also has simplified my equipment bag. In its simplest form, it contains one Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II body, four lenses, 16 gigs worth of CF cards, a Canon intervalometer, several ND filters for slower shutter speeds, an extra camera battery and some peripherals. My tripod is topped off with a Really Right Stuff ballhead and piano rig.
When using the 24mm tilt-shift lens, there are several must-dos. I must use a tripod and set the camera to manual meter, and the lens must be manually focused. Also, remember that if the images are taken within several seconds of each other, it’s rare that light changes enough to create a problem when stitching later.