Part 2: Basic Steps and Lessons of Using Tilt/Shift Function

Part 2: Basic Steps and Lessons of Using Tilt/Shift Function

This is part 2 of a series on tilt-shift lenses. Be sure to also check out part 1: Will Learning Tilt-Shift Lenses Improve Your PhotographyJohn Cooper specializes in corporate, industrial, and commercial photography for various business communities in Texas and teaches basic skills to other burgeoning photographers. If you are just starting out, or looking for a refresher, check out his advice below. You can also read more tips for architectural photography from John on our blog

Basic Steps for Using Tilt-Shift Controls

  1. Select your perspective and lock down your tripod.
  2. Making sure you are level to the horizon; compose the scene straight on using the “live-view” mode.
  3. Set to bracket exposure. I use one full stop since the light measurement goes crazy with everything moving around. Bracketing with tilt-shift, I feel, is mandatory.
  4. Select f/8. Remember that aperture settings do not affect DOF on tilt-shift lenses. If your focus plane has been aligned with the sensor plane, then focusing on that plane will result in total plane focus regardless of aperture. I use f/8 because it consistently produces the sharpest image on the wide angle lenses I use.
  5. There are 3 controls and 5 knobs or buttons on all tilt-shift lenses to control everything you do.
  6. The Lens Rotation control is the button at the rear of the lens. Depressing it allows the lens to move a full 360° and always remains parallel to the camera’s sensor.
  7. Loosen all control knobs and start composing! Throw caution away and have some fun. It will take a long time but you will soon see this “plane of focus” I keep talking about.
  8. Compose one you like and lock down all knobs.
  9. Focus: Use the lens ring to focus the bottom portion of the lens plane.
  10. Focus: Use the tilt knob to focus the top portion of the focus plane.
  11. Repeat steps 9 and 10 multiple times until you have sharp focus at both the bottom and top of the frame. This is the hardest part! You must zoom into the live-view to the extreme, focus on the bottom portion with the lens focus ring and then move the zoom to the top of the frame and focus with the tilt knob.
  12. Write down the tilt-shift settings and shoot.
  13. Compose another shot and repeat until you have +/- 10 shots.
  14. Immediately get to a good monitor and view what really happened.
  15. Repeat entire sequence until you can see and control what is going on.
Screenshot 2014-07-09 17.35.07

Tilt: one knob can be dampened to dial in precise focus and the other end of this knob locks it down once the focus is achieved. Shift: one knob can be dampened to dial in shift and the other end of this knob locks it down once the desired shift is achieved.

 Lessons I Learned When Using a Tilt-Shift Lens

• You will make mistakes when you first start using a tilt-shift lens.

• You can learn more through your mistakes than with your successes.

• Take notes. I hate this, too, but you will thank me later. Take notes of the tilt-shift settings and go through a series of analytical evaluations. Compose, shoot, and review….quickly. Repeat this until you can see that plane of focus.

• If you are shooting wide angle, then shoot with a full frame sensor. Learn more about the differences between full frame and crop frame sensor cameras here.

• All tilt-shift lenses require manual focus.

• Use a tripod.

• Remember to check your ISO frequently. I prefer using ISO 100 for everything if I am on a tripod. The ISO qualities have improved incredibly but, given a choice, always use the lower ISOs.

• Keep your battery charged. Using live view drains the battery life quickly.

• Always set your camera so that it cannot fire without a card – better safe than sorry.

Hungry for more? Here are some additional resources on using tilt-shift lenses:

Tip of the Week: Use a Tilt-Shift Lens for Panoramic Photos

The Poor Man’s Tilt-Shift: Freelensing Your Way to a Specialty Lens

Gear of the Week: Get 25% Off Selected Lenses (sometimes you see tilt-shift rentals on sale here)

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Katie Hayes

Katie Hayes is a recent graduate pursuing her passion for photography and marketing while interning with BorrowLenses.


  1. Number 4 is wrong. Of course aperture effects depth of field. It’s just that you do not have to rely on it on tilt shift lens. But it still has an effect.

  2. Scott, thats what I thought. One can still extend or shorten depth of field with these lenses, its just that the DOF is always relative to the plane of focus. If the POF is at an angle, then the depth of field will also be at the same angle. This is a great thing to know, especially when shooting product.



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