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
- 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Lens
- 24mm f/3.5L II Tilt-Shift Lens
- 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens
- 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens
Update – Canon released 3 more tilt-shift lenses:
- 135mm f/4L Macro Tilt-Shift Lens
- 90mm f/2.8L Macro Tilt-Shift Lens
- 50mm f/2.8L Macro Tilt-Shift Lens
Nikon PC-E Lenses
- 24mm f/3.5D ED PC-E Tilt-Shift Lens
- 45mm f/2.8D ED PC-E Tilt-Shift Lens
- 85mm f/2.8D PC-E Tilt-Shift Lens
Update – Nikon released another tilt-shift lens:
- Schneider PC Tilt-Shift Super-Angulon 50mm f/2.8 Lens For Canon
- Schneider 90mm f/4.5 Tilt-Shift Lens for Nikon
- Rokinon Tilt-Shift 24mm f/3.5 ED AS UMC Lens for Canon
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.
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.
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.
This results in the image below.
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.
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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