Tilt-Shift Lenses for Beginners, Part 1: Shift Function

Tilt-Shift Lenses for Beginners, Part 1: Shift Function

Photographers can use special perspective-control tools to achieve the most lifelike imagery of buildings and other open spaces. Here we will cover tilt-shift lenses for beginners in 2 parts. In part 1, we go over shifting basic. In part 2, we will cover how to tilt.

Tilt-Shift Lenses for Beginners: Why Use a Tilt-Shift Lens?

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 wide angle lenses, making many of these lenses unsuitable for certain types of architectural photography where not having those distortions is key.

While 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 and Rokinon, have come out with a range of lenses that address that specific problem.

Tilt-Shift Lenses for Rent

 

Canon TS-E Lenses

Update – Canon released 3 more tilt-shift lenses:

Nikon PC-E Lenses

Update – Nikon released another tilt-shift lens:

Other

Shift Function Example

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 the 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 for Multiple Image Stitching

Tilt-shift lenses are incredibly versatile. Besides being used to fix perspective and focal plane issues (we’ll cover the use of tilt-shift lenses for focal plane adjustments in Part 2), 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 tilt-shift 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 get enough images for this stitch. After it’s been completed and cropped, I’ll end up with a roughly 34.2MP image – I started with a 22MP image from a Canon 5D Mark II. I was able to do this all without having my camera at all.

That’s it for Part 1 of Tilt-Shift Lenses for Beginners. Join us for Part 2, where we’ll cover the use of the tilt functionality of these amazing tools.

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Sohail Mamdani is a writer, filmmaker, and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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