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What is a Tilt Shift Lens and When Should I Use It?

Posted by Jacob Hawthorne on

When you study photography, you will learn that there are a variety of lenses you can use including wide angle, telephoto, standard, fisheye and more. A tilt shift lens is one you may not hear about as often, but it can create a terrific effect.

Also called a perspective control lens, a tilt shift lens changes the position of the lens in relation to the camera’s sensor. The lens tilts so it is no longer parallel to the camera sensor which shifts the plane of focus and alters the depth of field. It recenters the image so you can take photos from different vantage points without moving the camera.

Tilt Control Vs. Shift Control

A tilt shift lens both tilts and shifts. Here is an explanation of how each feature works.

Tilting involves moving the focal plane in relation to the sensor plane so you can focus on two subjects from different distances from your camera. It also allows you to tilt the plane of focus in the same direction as the subject’s plane to get a large depth of field and bring the subject’s plane into sharp focus. This creates an effect known as the Scheimpflug principle.

With shifting, you can shift the lens parallel to the image plane to frame your shot without moving the camera. It will decrease distortion when shooting with a wide-angle lens and correct vertical line convergence when you are shooting from a high or low angle.

Why Use a Tilt Shift Lens

A tilt shift lens can be used to create the following results.

A Miniature Effect: The tilt control knob will allow you to make life size photos look like miniature scale models. The lens adds a blur effect to the photo mimicking a shallow depth of field. To achieve the effect, take the photo from a high vantage point at least 10 feet above the subject.

Eliminate Perspective Distortion: Perspective distortion, or vertical line convergence, occurs when you angle the camera sensor upward to photograph a tall building or something else high up. It will make the object look tapered. But if you use the shift control knob to angle the lens up without moving the camera, it will not distort.

To Photograph a Mirror: The shift feature can be used to take a picture of a mirror without appearing in the mirror’s reflection. Stand to the side of the mirror and shift the lens sideways to eliminate the reflection while making it appear as if you are shooting head on.

For Landscape Photography: Many landscape photographers shoot with a wide-angle lens that can create distortion. If you use a sideways shift instead, it will prevent distortion that often appears in panoramic photos which leads to less time in editing.

To Shoot Portraits with Multiple Focus Points: You can use the tilt control knob to focus on two different subjects and help your photograph tell a story.

A tilt shift lens is a terrific photography tool. It is useful in eliminating distortion and capturing two subjects in one photo. How will you be using it to get those money shots?


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