03/22/2004:

Tilt/Shift

Tilt/Shift Lens Experiment

Tilt/Shift Lens Experiment

Tilt/Shift Lens Experiment

Tilt/Shift Lens Experiment

Tilt/Shift Lens Experiment

Tilt/Shift Lens Experiment

Tilt/Shift Lens Experiment

Tilt/Shift Lens Experiment

Tilt/Shift Lens Experiment

Tilt/Shift Lens Experiment

Tilt/Shift Lens Experiment

Tilt/Shift Lens Experiment

Tilt/Shift Lens Experiment

Tilt/Shift Lens Experiment

Tilt/Shift Lens Experiment

Sivan Lewin told me that real architectural and fine arts photographers use Tilt/Shift lenses to avoid problems with converging lines and false perspective. These problems occur when you tilt the camera up towards the top of the building or scene to capture the entire subject. To avoid converging lines, the film plane (or back plane of the digital camera) should be parallel to the front of the building, and the camera should be positioned exactly halfway up the face of the building. This is great if you have a cherry-picker, but if you are standing on the ground, even a 6' tripod is still not going to get the height you need to avoid the distortion.

Enter the Tilt/Shift lens. It allows you to shift the lens up while keeping the back of the camera parallel to the scene, and thus avoiding the distortion (see this page for a comparison). I rented a Canon TS-E 24mm lens from Alkit Camera up by Union Square ($35/day). The lens fits my Digital Rebel, and still allows you to use your light metering. It is, however, manual focus. The lens performed very well on the long exposures I took- with very little light fall-off in the shifted shots. I will probably rent the lens a few more times before I purchase one myself. Bottom line: combined with a tall, sturdy tripod (like the Bogen DigiCompact that I bought today), a shift lens really does let you take better pictures.

Comments

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Hmm, isn't Alkit above 14th st?

They are really convenient for equipment rentals. Especially with their "weekend is one rental day" policy. Don't forget, they let you deduct some amount of your rentals against a purchase if it's within a certain time period.

Good stuff! Now you are making me think about going to rent a Tilt/Shift lens for a few days and go play.

The Bogen/Manfrotto tripods are great, I've had my 190D for a few years, it has taken quite a bit of abuse but it's still holding up strong.

These are really beautiful photos. I particularly like the one with the tree in the parking lot. The tilt/shift lense makes it look, to me, like it is a picture of a minature, like a shoe-box panorama. I guess I use the converging lines effect to judge scale! Wonderful. I also really like the last one.

Sometimes the focus issues make the shot more interesting, like the one of the door with the AERO tag. I guess to avoid that you can use a regular lens and tilt/shift in Photoshop? Anyway, I hope you do a regular series of technical photography lessons like this one.

yeah- i definitely want to run a series of these technical posts. some aspects i'd like to explore: Depth of Field tricks, various lenses (wide, ultrawide, fisheye, telephoto, etc), various cameras (medium format, large format), various lighting techniques, various camera settings (ISO speeds, white balance, RAW formats, etc).

one interesting fact- i've been reading more about tilt/shift. the readings say that tilt is really for doing depth of field tricks- basically tilting the depth of field to make it wider. the shift movement is really for converging lines. now, in my pix, i exclusively tilted, b/c shifting the lens right or left didn't make sense, and didn't seem like it would fix the convergence problem. from the look of it, tilting fixed the convergence and also created the DOF effect. is anyone more knowledgeable about this phenomenon? i'd really like to understand if shifting can be used to correct convergence distortions.

Great photos with real atmosphere. My favourite is the park with the chain link fence.

To correct convergence in architectural photography you just need to shift the lens up (or down if you're shooting a building below you) while keeping the back of the camera perfectly level (parallel to subject). The procedure is:

Check your tripod is perfectly level.
Check the camera is level by comparing the vertical lines on the building with the lines on your focusing screen (a grid screen is essential if you want everything to be perfect).
Shift the lens upwards to achieve the required composition.
(If you can't position yourself in the right position you might need to shift the lens up and to the side to get the best composition - no problem provided the tripod is level and the camera back is parallel)
Stop the lens down to achieve sufficient depth of field.

Because of the relatively large distance of the building from the camera you shouldn't need to tilt the lens to achieve sharpness throughout the image.

I read somewhere that Ezra Stoller (www.esto.com) never swung/tilted his lens. After shifting the lens he just stopped down as much as he could.

The 24mm TSE is a great lens - sharp as a tack.

but matt- here is what i don't understand. let's say i'm across the street from a building i want to shoot, and i set up the tripod parallel and i have the camera focused straight on to the building. shifting the lens up or down isn't going to help me capture the top of the building- b/c isn't it simply equivalent to moving the tripod up or down by an inch or so? i'm as far back as i can get- with my back to the opposite buildings- would this be the time to use the tilt? that is, to tilt the lens upwards while keeping the back parallel to the building, thus capturing a little bit more of the top of the building? would this keep the lines straight? b/c that was my method in the pix above.

i still don't understand the value of shifting right or left or up and down- b/c for right or left shifts, i can just move the tripod to the left or right, and for up and down, i can just shift the telescope up or down. so what is the shift for?

Yeah, I'd definitely agree with the comment stating that the slightly-off focus effect gives the photos a neat look. Keep it up.

These pix are KA, you have to get one of those lenses to use all the time...

Hi Jake,

Basically tilting changes the plane of focus and shifting changes the composition. The basic rule in architecture is that you usually only ever need to shift because depth of field will cover the whole subject. You normally only tilt the lens when you're shooting something small and depth of field won't cover it - like jewellery.

Ultimately you're limited by how far back you go. If you can't get the top of the building in the frame, even with a full shift upwards, then you need to look at getting higher - even a ladder is sometimes enough - or further back.

You could hire a 5x4 camera and play with that - that's a great way to learn the basic principles that tilting/swinging the lens will change the plane of focus, while moving the lens will affect the composition of the image. Moving the back of the camera creates (or corrects) distortion such as convergence.

Ansel Adams' book The Camera has a good section on camera movements and explains them much better than I can.

I just did a test with my lens and I think I can see what you mean about tilting. When you tilt the lens downwards, as well as changing the plane of focus (and throwing the top half of the frame out of focus) it also includes more of the top of the frame. The verticals diverge towards towards the top of the frame, but you've tilted the camera backwards to correct your verticals.

The pics from my experiment are at:

http://www.mattgreenslade.com/tse/

The camera was levelled on a tripod and I shot four images - one with no lens movements, two with the lens shifted upwards, and one with the lens tilted.

In practice the only reason you'd want to shift left or right would be if you wanted to do a straight-on shot of the front of a building and you couldn't position youself dead centre. By positioning the back parallel vertically and horizontally and then shifting to the side you'd keep the horizontals straight.

As you say - if you can move the camera into the right position there's no need to make any of these adjustments.

Some more links (in addition to Ken's) that I've found useful, especially in explaining the phenomenon of the DOF change in tilting:

http://eosdoc.com/manuals/notes/tilt-shift_desc/
http://www.central-camera.com/canon/lens_intro_t-s.htm

Some of the reading suggests that the tilt and shift axes can be rotated and aligned parallel (opposed to perpendicular, as Canon ships), allowing you to combine the two effects. I would assume Alkit rents out unmodified TS-E's, though they might have some modified lenses per request.

everyone should check out matt and felix's links- they definitely make things clearer. i've rented the TS-E 24 for this coming weekend, so i'll be posting some new tilt/shift pix on saturday or sunday. thanks to everyone who has helped me figure out how to use the lens!

Is it possible to get a shift and tilt lense for a nikon d70? thank you.. javier

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