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How To Use a Tilt Shift Lens for Food Photography

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When it comes to food and product photography, there are a few lenses that are ideal to have in your kit. One of these is a tilt shift lens.

A tilt shift lens is a specialty lens. It will allow you to work with the depth-of-field and perspective in your photos in a creative way.

Tilt Shift lenses are often used in architectural photography. They solve issues with perspective control.

Read on to find out more about how tilt shift lenses work. And how to use them for shooting food and product photography.

Photo of a plate of noodles and a hand holding chopsticks

What Is a Tilt Shift Lens?

Commercial product and still life photographers use tilt-shift lenses all the time. In fact, a lot of commercial food photographers rely heavily on a tilt shift lens.

They can be quite pricey, but worth the investment if you need to use them often

So what is a tilt shift lens? It’s a lens that can be tilted or shifted in a wide range of directions, relative to the image sensor. They give you a wider image circle than a traditional one.

Essentially, they are like a medium format camera. They give you the ability to use different portions of the lens.

A traditional lens doesn’t see exactly like the human eye. But the perspective it offers is pretty close to what we see.

A tilt shift lens opens up various other possibilities. You can have a focal length that runs through many different distances. All without blurring out the other parts of the scene.

In a regular lens, your plane of focus is parallel to your camera’s sensor. This affects what will be in focus. Anything that is at the same distance as your subject will appear sharp.

The focal plane and depth-of-field fall on distance and will depend on your selected aperture. This is why when you shoot at wide apertures (small f/stop numbers) you have a very thin depth-of-field.

Wherever you place your focus, this is the line in your image where everything is in focus.

A tilt shift lens allows you to control the convergence of parallel lines and the plane-of-focus. You can shoot two subjects at two different distances, instead of just one.

Photo of a cityscape with tilt shift lens

How Does a Tilt Shift Lens Work?

A tilt shift lens allows you to do two things:

  • the tilt function allows you to change the plane-of-focus to no longer be parallel to the sensor.
  • the shift function adjusts your subject’s position in the image without you having to move the camera.

With these two functions, you can use a tilt-shift lens to shoot your subject at its most flattering angle. You control how much you include in the frame without changing the camera angle or distance.

Being able to control the plane-of-focus allows for sharp focus in the foreground. And the background objects remain out of focus.

Tilt shift lenses also give you more control over your image’s depth of field. With a traditional lens, anything at the same distance as the subject will appear in focus. This is because these elements lie on the same focal plane.

When you tilt the lens, the focal plane tilts as well and becomes a diagonal line. It’s no longer parallel to the camera. This creates a much deeper depth of field.

And you can create an image where two objects that are parallel to one another are not both in focus. You also have the ability to shift the lens up or down, or from side to side. This means you can capture elements that would otherwise lie outside of the frame with a typical lens. You can get angles that would otherwise be impossible.

One important thing to know about this lens is that it can only be focused manually. The tilt shift features only work when the focal plane is parallel with the sensor plane.

The bonus of this is that it makes the lens even more versatile. You can also use it as a regular lens.

Photo of a woman cutting up a pie

How to Use a Tilt Shift Lens for Food Photos

When you first encounter a tilt shift lens, they can seem confusing. They look different from a traditional lens.

There are two adjustable knobs on each side of the lens that will allow you to ‘shift’ the lens left and right. When you shift the lens left, you place the focal line on the right.

Everything on the left will be out of focus because the right side is closest to the sensor plane.

If you shift the lens right, the focal area will be on the left of the frame.

To tilt your lens, you need to use the two screw knobs on the top and bottom. By shooting wide and tilting the lens up or down, you shift the plane of focus. This creates a very shallow depth of field effect.

It also gives you the ability to extend your focus. Imagine that you want two different subjects in focus but they are at different distances from your camera. With a traditional lens, you wouldn’t be able to achieve this. With a tilt shift lens, you can.

With all these features of a tilt shift lens, you can minimize distortion while also playing with focus effects.

Photo of a plate of spaghetti with clams

Shooting Food Photography With A Tilt-Shift Lens

With a tilt-shift lens, you can selectively control the plane of focus. You can get the subject at the front of the image to be sharply in focus, while the background elements are out of focus.

It can be difficult to get the most flattering angle of a dish or product when capturing the objects around it too.

With a tilt-shift lens, you can shoot food photography at its most flattering angle. And you can control how many of the props or other supporting elements around it appear in the frame.

This is particularly useful if you’re shooting product or food packaging images. Or images where text needs to be applied, like a magazine cover.

Close-up photo of flour

Conclusion

You might be thinking that you can recreate the tilt-shift look in post-processing. You’ll find that many shots taken with a tilt-shift lens are not possible using a normal lens and editing software.

You can’t recreate these extreme perspective adjustments in Photoshop.

If a tilt-shift lens is too costly to add to your kit right now, try renting one and playing around with it.

You may get hooked on the world of possibilities it opens up for you and will decide it’s worth the investment. If not, it can be a good idea to rent one for certain types of commercial jobs and food photography.

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