Sunday, June 1, 2008
Shoot Like Ansel Adams With 35mm D-SLRs
Today’s tilt-shift lenses offer unparalleled perspective control
One particularly cool advantage that we have with a D-SLR and a perspective-control or tilt-shift lens is that we can handhold and shoot. Adams was restricted to a bulky tripod, but we can move much more freely, watching how the look of the frame evolves in the viewfinder. Naturally, your best and sharpest images will come from using a tripod, but the modern D-SLR and a lens with movements lend themselves to a much more freewheeling style of shooting, and for many of us this makes for more creative images.
With the tilting function, you can pull in subjects that are in close range and those that are distant because the depth of field stretches out and allows you to get everything in the frame equally focused. The shift function allows the image circle to move so you can put a tall subject like Half Dome in the frame without the distortion of keystoning (the keystone effect makes your image look trapezoidal).
Another thing to keep in mind is that when using the tilt function of the lenses, you have to refocus the image because the lens won’t hold the focus you manually achieved before tilting. Also, exposure metering through the lens becomes much more restrictive.
When you’re shooting with a perspective-control or tilt-shift lens, make use of your D-SLR’s depth-of-field preview. Hold down the depth-of-field preview button and slowly stop down the aperture to see the effect in the viewfinder. Adams did this with a loupe on the ground glass and a dark cloth over his head. Take particular care with foreground objects because as you employ lens tilt, the tops of these objects can lose sharpness. Look at the diagram above, and you’ll see how the depth of field changes from what you’re used to with a rigid system.
George Lepp, a professional who uses all the Canon TS-E lenses, conducts workshops where he teaches his students how to use them.
“You’re going to have to learn; it’s kind of like tapping your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time,” Lepp says of the learning curve involved. “You have to learn how to find the right angle so that you get the right plane to cover the area you want and to put that plane where you want it. It’s a combination of two things—of how much tilt and of where the focus is—so you’re doing two things at once. Number one, you have to find the plane; and number two, you have to find the focus where that plane is going to be. And you do them both at the same time. In a day, you can be doing it just fine. Then each time you use it, you get a little more comfortable with it.”
The impetus of perspective-control or tilt-shift lenses allows for remarkable images for outdoor and nature photographers, whether it’s rolling landscapes and panoramic stitching of photos or macro work. There’s a groundwork that can be followed in order to achieve the optimization of these lenses that Ansel Adams set forth.
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