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Tilt/Shift: Working With Perspective-Control Lenses, Part 1

Gear Talk
Schneider 50mm on a Canon 5D Mark III

Schneider 50mm on a Canon 5D Mark III

This is Part 1 of a series on using Tilt-Shift or Perspective-Control lenses. In this part, we look at the “Shift” functionality of these unique lenses. Part 2, which covers the “tilt” functionality of these lenses, can be found here.

Anyone who’s ever shot a building or any other structure from the bottom looking up knows that the bottom-up perspective makes it look like the vertical lines of the building are all converging towards the top. This problem is exaggerated with wider-angle lenses, making many of these lenses unsuitable for certain types of architectural photography, where not having those distortions is key.

While the latest version of Photoshop does include an “Adaptive Wide Angle” filter to help correct these distortions, a lot of photographers prefer to get things right in-camera, leading to less image manipulation in post. For that reason, both Canon and Nikon, as well as third-party manufacturers like Schneider-Kreuznach, have come out with a range of lenses that address that specific problem.

The box below outlines the list of tilt-shift lenses BorrowLenses.com has in our inventory.

Take a look at the image below. Here, I’m using a 17mm TS-E lens from Canon without any adjustments. The back of the camera is perfectly parallel to walls of the structure I’m shooting.

First shot, with back of camera perfectly parallel to the walls of the structure

First shot, with back of camera perfectly parallel to the walls of the structure

For this image, which I shot specifically for this article, I’m shooting from across the road to get almost all of the building into the frame. As you can see, I’m getting a fair amount of the road, which I don’t really want, and I’m cutting off the top of the building somewhat.

With a normal wide-angle lens, you’d just tilt the camera upwards, cropping out the road. That’s what I did in the next image, below.

Second image, with camera tilted up to crop out the road.

Second image, with camera tilted up to crop out the road.

Now I’ve cut the road out and I’ve managed to ensure that I have more headroom (perhaps too much), but there’s is some clear distortion happening here. The vertical lines of the structure are converging towards the top. What should be rectangles are now rhomboid in shape. The curves are also a bit distorted.

To get the image I’m looking for, I shift the front plane of the lens upwards, using the shift knob outlined in red in the image below.

The Shift knob on a Canon 17mm TS-E lens.

The Shift knob on a Canon 17mm TS-E lens.

This results in the image below.

Final image with the front plane of the lens shifted up.

Final image with the front plane of the lens shifted up.

As you can see, I’ve cropped out the road, given myself lots of headroom, and done it all without distortion or converging lines.

Tilt-shift lenses are incredibly versatile. Besides being used to fix perspective and focal plane issues (we’ll cover the use of TS lenses for focal plane adjustments in part II), they can also be used to do some pretty interesting stuff, like creating a stitched image for making large, high-res prints. As a preview, take a look at the screenshot below.

Stitch of approximately 7 images forming a 34MP photo.

Stitch of approximately 7 images forming a 34MP photo.

Here, I’ve used Canon’s 24mm f/3.5L II lens to take multiple images of this structure, starting at the center, then sliding up and down, then left and right, then at 45º increments to father enough images for this stitch. After it’s been completed and cropped, I’ll end up with a roughly 34.2MP image, when I started with a 22MP image from a Canon 5D Mark II. I’ll go into more detail on techniques like that in part III of this series.

That’s it for Part I of Tilt/Shift: Working with Perspective Control Lenses. Join us for Part II soon, where we’ll cover the use of the “Tilt” functionality of these amazing pieces of glass. As always, questions and feedback are welcome in the comments below.

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Sohail Mamdani is a writer and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. You can find his portfolio on his website at sohail.me as well as on 500px and Flickr.

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