Tilt-Shift Photography for Beginners

Tilt-shift shot
Tilt-shift shot of colorful houses in Vernazza

Learning new techniques in order to capture one-of-a-kind photos is one of the most exciting aspects of photography. One particularly interesting technique is the use of tilt-shift lenses, which allows you to eliminate wide-angle distortions. Tilt-shift lenses also allow you to manipulate your depth of field to achieve sharper and more selective focus on your subject and simulate miniature scenes (also known as “miniature faking”).

Tilt-shift lenses are often used in landscape, architectural, and product photography. Usual subjects include buildings and architectural structures, as tilt-shift lenses can prevent distortion by keeping the verticals of a building parallel. Tilt-shift lenses are also useful for product photography, as selective sharpness can be induced on key areas of
the subject.

  • Eliminates distortions
  • Straightens architectural lines
  • Manipulates focus
  • Simulates a miniature scene
  • Great for landscape, architectural, and product photography

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How Does Tilt-Shift Photography Work?

Tilt-shift photography for beginners
Tilt-shift photo of buildings with trees in the foreground

In order to gain a better understanding of tilt-shift photography, one must understand how tilt-shift lenses work. These lenses can be tilted and shifted to control perspective. Moreover, the tilt movement is used to control the focal point in the image, while shifting controls the parallelism or convergence of vertical lines when it is done upwards or downwards.

The Lens

A tilt-shift lens, or perspective control lens, is carefully designed to physically rotate, tilt, and shift using dials and locks on the exterior of the lens. These lenses vary in size and can range from 17mm to 90mm, depending on the brand of the camera and how it’s going to be used. It’s advisable to determine what type of photography you’re planning to engage in before getting one of these lenses as they’re quite pricey. Also, you might want to consider camera rental companies such as Adorama Rental Co. to decide if a purchase is worth it.

Tilting

The lens can be tilted to change the plane of focus, which in turn alters the depth of field. This motion allows you to widen or narrow the area of focus. The tilt is also what gives the photo the small-scale effect, as it can visibly blur out both the foreground and the background, which is the usual case when shooting actual miniatures. When shooting a wide scene with regular lenses, you can only keep one area (the foreground or background) strongly out of focus.

Shifting

Depending on where you lock the rotation of the lens, the lens can be moved up and down or side to side against the body of the camera. This enables you to control and correct the camera’s perspective. By angling the camera parallel to the ground until the lines are visibly straight and then shifting the lens up to capture vertical views of the buildings above or to the side for horizontal landscape views, you can keep the lines straight and won’t have to distort the scene as you normally would with regular lenses.

Tips for Taking Tilt-Shift Photos

Miniature faking done with a tilt-shift lens

Carefully Angle Your Camera

To really utilize the benefits of tilt-shift cameras on perspective control, spend a good amount of time and effort in setting your camera at the right angle. Make sure the
lens is parallel to the ground and use the grid on your viewfinder to help you straighten the lines in your scene before shifting the lens.

Shoot from Above

If you’re looking to make the scene (including cars and people) look like miniature scale models, position yourself from a higher angle. Take photos from a couple of floors up by the window, by the balcony, or from the roof deck of a building. This will help emulate what looking over a miniature model feels like. However, don’t go as far as taking
the shot directly overhead as this will widen your depth of field and reduce the unique blurring effect of tilt-shift lenses.

Choose an Eye-Catching Subject

The key to taking compelling tilt-shift photos is not to keep creating interesting blurs. Without a good subject, viewers will still end up questioning the intended message behind your image. Choose a subject that’s fascinating to you. Uninteresting or physically flat subjects with limited detail won’t work well in tilt-shift photography.

Opt for An Uncomplicated Scene

In every photographic style, less is often more. Try to go for uncomplicated scenes that will allow you to aim your focus on specific elements (like cars, people, or a row of buildings) and eliminate as much distraction as possible.

Mind the Sharpness

Since many parts of your photo will be blurred, ensure that the focal point is sharp. This also means being aware of whether or not the contrast of your subject is enough to make it stand out. Aside from achieving this by tilting the lens, also find good lighting that will complement your subject.

Enhance the Colors

Miniature scenes are typically more colorful than real life, so editing or post-processing your photos to crank up the saturation a little bit is perfectly acceptable—and recommended!—when miniature faking with a tilt-shift lens.

Last but not least, don’t forget to have fun! Mastering new techniques are what makes photography such a fulfilling creative pursuit. Approach each project with an inquisitive mind and the desire to learn and you’ll never quench your passion.

Author Details
Meliza Summer is a traveler pesky to discover new hide-outs and cultures around the world. She is only accompanied by her camera and favorite fountain pen. Meliza believes that there are many kinds of freedom in this world and you can enjoy one on traveling.
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Meliza Summer is a traveler pesky to discover new hide-outs and cultures around the world. She is only accompanied by her camera and favorite fountain pen. Meliza believes that there are many kinds of freedom in this world and you can enjoy one on traveling.
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