Experimenting With Perspective

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

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.


Depth Of Field Without Stopping Down
Without a doubt, this is the most pertinent tilt-shift lens application for landscape photographers. Many of you are familiar with the Scheimpflug principle. Large-format shooters have used Scheimpflug from time immemorial to achieve increased depth of field. It works by manipulating the relationship of the lens plane and the film plane (or image plane), and it gives you greater depth of field without having to stop down the lens to a smaller aperture.

In simpler terms, it means that you can achieve the front-to-back depth of field you always long for in those spectacularly deep landscape images without the longer shutter speeds associated with apertures of ƒ/16 and beyond. This can be particularly useful when shooting wildflowers on a windy day, photographing a landscape with fast-moving clouds or even freezing the movement of a creek or stream that begs to be tack-sharp.

Easy Shooting And Stitching For Multiple-Image Panoramas
If you're a fan of stitching digital panoramas, you'll be pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to knock out three- and four-frame panoramas by utilizing the shift function on tilt-shift lenses. Unless you're shooting a more advanced stitched collage of frames, there's no rotating your tripod head, calculating nodal point, etc.—it's just a simple horizontal (or vertical) lens shift.

Using Tilt-Shift In Layouts
Have you ever put together a family newsletter or any other kind of layout that joined your images with text? It can be difficult to get type to read off a photograph. Using the selective blur from a tilt-shift lens can make negative space out of filler that would have been busy and unusable otherwise. Words and logos pop off the page when placed on soft backgrounds.



Tilt-Shift 101
There's a definite learning curve to using tilt-shift lenses. I could use the better part of this issue of OP explaining the technical intricacies of each and every application for these versatile lenses. Instead, here are some general tips that will be helpful, regardless of your approach when using these lenses. Remember that there are loads of tutorials and insightful articles and blog posts online and on the OP website, www.outdoorphotographer.com.

Use A Tripod. All current tilt-shift lenses are manual focus. This means a greater amount of time and attention to detail are required to make sure you haven't made a mistake or missed your mark. Small movements make a huge difference in both the appearance and accuracy of your image. Utilizing a tripod will maximize your opportunity for a keeper and minimize your chances of falling short.


Use Live View Display. If you're using a DSLR with Live View, use it! Live View has changed the way we can capture tilt-shift imagery. It's nearly essential for confirming focus. Especially when tilting the plane of focus, the tolerance for misfocusing is extremely narrow. Always check your focus at 10x zoom (if possible) on your Live View display. If you don't have Live View, check it on your LCD after clicking the shutter. To achieve the correct effect with this lens, you need to be dead-on with the intended sharp parts of the image. Additionally, utilize the grid overlay on your Live View to aid in ensuring that vertical lines are vertical and that your horizon line
is straight.

Shoot Away! As was mentioned above, the margin for error with these lenses is very narrow. This means that you'll undoubtedly come away with some unsuccessful images. Increase your ratio for success by shooting multiple shots of the same frame when-ever possible. Again, just the slightest movement with your tripod or lens can throw off the focus of your entire image—shooting multiple frames of the same image will work far more to your benefit than detriment.

Experiment. The best way to familiarize yourself with these lenses is simply to get out and shoot with them. Experiment with different degrees of tilt and shift. Experiment with vertical and horizontal tilt. Experiment with large and small apertures—you'll notice the dreamlike effect will be lessened at smaller apertures. You'll find ideal settings for certain types of images and shooting situations. Much of the tilt-shift metadata won't be recorded by your camera, so it may be useful to write down the degree of tilt or shift for different shots.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Don't Overdo It. Tilt-shift should be the exception rather than the rule. It can quickly lose its effectiveness in a portfolio or body of work when overutilized. Make it your icing on the cake, instead of the other way around. You also might consider using the creative effects to a lesser degree by either tilting less or shooting at smaller apertures.

Final Advice
Tilt-shift lenses aren't for everyone, but they're loads of fun and extremely effective when used correctly. If you don't own one, try renting one for a day and see if it's something that fits in with your creative and technical needs. Don't get discouraged if the initial results aren't everything you've ever dreamed of. Embrace the unfamiliar, and see the world with new eyes.

To see more of Adam Barker's work, visit www.adambarkerphotography.com.


Alternatives To Tilt-Shift And Perspective-Control Lenses

In 2004, the innovative company Lensbaby (www.lensbaby.com) introduced the world to its first "baby," a 50mm ƒ/2.8 single-element bendable lens using a bellows-like plastic barrel. Skeptics abounded, but Lensbaby gained a cult following and has produced many legitimate alternative lenses that give photographers numerous options in producing imagery with different optical effects similar to (as well as different than) standard tilt-shift lenses. The Flashpoint Tilt Adapter (www.adorama.com) lets you attach a Nikon lens to a Micro 4/3rds camera and gives you 12º of tilt in all directions to generate creative effects. Note: These lenses and adapters aren't alternatives for the correctional shifting capabilities of tilt-shift lenses; rather, they're viable options for the creative "dreamlike" imagery one can achieve with tilt-shift lenses. Tilt-Shift Software. Just as one can add filtration and other effects to their imagery with post-capture software programs, one can add the tilt-shift effect with one of several software applications.

Lensbaby Composer; Flashpoint Tilt Adapter; Alien Skin Bokeh 2

These include TiltShiftMaker (tiltshiftmaker.com) and Alien Skin's Bokeh 2 plug-in (www.alienskin.com). There's no doubt the marketplace will support more intuitive programs for adding tilt-shift effects in post, and no doubt more options will be available soon.

1 Comment

    Great article Adam. Tilt-shitfs are fun and add creative possibilities.

    Love the 2 shots (Cao Dai Temple & Bayon) you got with us (M&M Photo Tours) while on tour as our guest pro last October in Indochina.

    For those who want more Adam Barker you should join us this October in Indochina.

    Keep up the great work!

    Mike G.

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