Architecture photography used to be captured using a large format camera and a tilt shift lens. This was the best way to remove parallax errors.
Nowadays, tilt shift lenses are a very kitsch trend that creates very interesting images.
Read on for more information on what tilt shift lenses are and how to use them.
What Is a Tilt Shift Lens
A tilt shift lens is a lens in which the optics inside can be tilted and shifted, in relation to the image sensor. Newer lenses also rotate, allowing the lens to tilt and shift in a wide range of directions.
These lenses are built with perspective correction in mind. They help to maximize or minimize depth-of-field in photography.
The tilt feature of the tilt-shift lens uses the Scheimpflug principle. This describes a situation where the lens plane and image plane/sensor are not parallel.
This may sound very complicated, but it basically means that this feature can dramatically change your plane of sharp focus.
In a typical lens, the focus plane and sensor plane are parallel. This means, if you focus on an object six feet away, everything at that same distance will also be in focus.
By tilting a lens left or right, you change the way the two planes interact.
The plane of focus runs vertically through the frame. This means that everything from the front to the back of the frame can be in focus.
This is even the case when using a relatively wide aperture, where areas to the left and right gradually fall out of focus.
The shift feature of the tilt-shift lens allows the lens’ optics to shift compared to the image sensor.
These lenses are designed to project an image circle much larger than typical lenses.
The Canon TS-E 24 f/3.5 Tilt-Shift, for example, projects a 67.2mm image circle. Far bigger than the 43.2 mm EF lens image circle.
By shifting a lens, you are effectively photographing your subject from a different camera position. This feature lets you photograph architecture without the converging verticals.
For this to work, the camera needs to be level and pointed directly toward the building.
The lens is then shifted upwards to include the top-most part of the building.
How to Use a Tilt Shift Lens
All Tilt Shift lenses are manual focus. This feature can only work when the focal plane is parallel with the sensor plane.
The first thing to know about this type of lens is you can use it without the tilt-shift feature. This will help keep your gear down to a minimum.
The benefit with these lenses is that you can physically see the change in the lens, when you tilt or shift. The tilt shift lens will move, showing you the effects in play.
There are two adjustable screw knobs on the left and right of the tilt shift lens. These allow you to ‘shift’ the lens left and right.
By shifting the lens left, you place the focal line on the right. This sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s because that area is now closest to the sensor plane.
By placing the focal line on the right, you have everything on the left out of focus. This is a great technique to use when the subject or area of interest is on the right, leading away from the camera.
The reverse is also true. By shifting the lens right, you place the focal area on the left of the frame.
With the shift, you have up to 12 mm of shift at your disposal. The best thing here is that you can obtain a large depth of field with a very wide aperture, such as f/3.5.
To tilt your lens, you need to use the two screw knobs on the top and bottom of the lens. Tilting your lens gives your frame the impression that your camera is much higher.
To correct converging verticals, you need to tilt your lens up when at the bottom of a structure.
If you are at the top, let’s say, up high, shooting down, you need to tilt your lens down.
As the tilt and shift features of the lens are independent of each other, each one can be turned 90 degrees.
This means that instead of using the shift to get the focal area on the left or right, you can place them in the top or bottom areas of your frame.
This is also true for the tilt aspect, allowing you to use it sideways instead of top to bottom. These are mainly used when you change your camera’s orientation from landscape to portrait.
However, they can give your images some very interesting results.
When to Use a Tilt-Shift Lens
There are quite a few benefits of using a tilt shift lens. When you use a standard, typical lens, your focal plane and depth of field falls on distance.
This means, wherever you place your focus, there is a line in your image where everything is in focus. This only works in the distance and will depend on the aperture you use.
Due to the tilt shift lens being able to harness these special powers, we can have a focal length that runs through many different distances, without blurring out the other parts of the scene.
This is great for following lines that don’t cover the same distances from the camera.
Remove Converging Lines
Because the camera is levelled, the vertical lines do not converge. This is also down to the simulated view of a camera place much higher than it actually is.
Impossible Camera Angles
One of the best things about the shift feature is that it allows otherwise impossible camera angles.
Photographing directly into a mirror without the reflection of the camera would be possible.
Another feature of the tilt shift lens is aiding panoramic images. By leaving the camera stationary, you capture a frame using left-shift, center and then right-shift.
This avoids the pitfalls of the parallax error while enabling an easy panoramic stitch during post-production.
Looking for more tips? Check out our new post about focus shift next!