Photography is a special means of expression and creativity.
It communicates ideas and emotions while allowing us to escape ourselves. It is the realization of a shared moment, fixed in time.
Being a photographer means learning to bridge the gap between imagination and the reality of the moment. It means accepting that these two worlds can be joined, and agreeing to lose yourself for a moment in a world much bigger than the one we know, a world of a thousand possibilities.
A tilt-shift lens is a brilliant tool to help photographers create images that are creative, different, and eye-catching. They give us the challenge we need to break out of routines and push ourselves.
What is a tilt-shift lens?
Shifting, also called tilt-shift, was designed for photographers of architecture. It enables them to straighten the lines of a building they are photographing, which reduces the distortions in their images.
More recently, in portraiture and wedding photography, photographers have begun to experiment with tilt-shift lenses to create unique effects in their portraits.
There’s a main difference between a regular lens and a tilt-shift lens. A regular lens has a plane of focus parallel to the sensor. However, a tilt-shift allows you to manipulate the focal plane, which enables you to control the perspective and the depth of field.
This lens reduces the depth of field without changing the aperture of the diaphragm. It uses the tilt function of the lens to do so. Also, it’s possible to focus where you want and to blur the rest of the image.
When to use a tilt-shift lens?
A tilt-shift lens will produce better results in certain situations. The effect may be difficult to achieve if the lens is used incorrectly or if it is used in conditions which are not ideal.
The first thing to know is that the effect will be be more prominent depending on your scene. All the elements that you choose to include in your frame, including colors, textures and shapes, have importance.
The tilt-shift lens gives incredible results with a darker background. For example, a scene with a light grey sky is not ideal because the effect will be more difficult to perceive.
It is, therefore, important to choose a good moment and environment. You must consider all of the elements that are part of your composition, and pay close attention to texture and contrast in your environment.
A busy scene with a lot of contrast is definitely a better choice than a scene that is uncluttered and has neutral tones. I adore using the tilt-shift lens during sunsets with colored clouds, in the forest, or in front of an old barn, for example.
The tilt-shift lens is also an excellent choice for photographing landscapes because it creates an incredible effect with its depth of field which cannot be reproduced with a regular lens.
Another way I like to use it is when I do a group portrait. By focusing on the right place, it is possible to have everyone’s face in focus even though they are on a different plane in the image. This is also something that is not possible with a regular lens unless you reduce the aperture of the diaphragm.
How to use a tilt-shift lens?
You have to practice a lot before you get the result you want. In the beginning, I suggest choosing a small aperture (f/5.6, for example) until you are more at ease controlling your focal plane with larger apertures.
It is a good idea to begin by tilting the lens minimally so that your zone of desired sharpness is larger. This way, you will have a greater margin of error which can be helpful as you are learning.
Using the Live View mode of your camera is an excellent way to focus more precisely. With the option to zoom in, it is much easier to correct your focus. Once my subject is in focus, I find it helpful to take a number of photos to ensure that I have at least one good one in the batch.
In order to properly expose the image, I rely on the light meter in my camera. It is important to know that the in-camera meter reading changes when the lens is in both tilt mode as well as in shift mode.
Therefore, it is worth settting your exposure before composing your image. Then you won’t have to think about it anymore and you can let your creativity flow.
Being a wedding photographer and having to photograph my subjects in all types of conditions, the majority of my lenses are maximum-aperture lenses and often open up to f/1.4. With my Canon 24mm f/3.5 tilt-shift, I know that I don’t have the ability to open up to f/1.4 or f/1.8. I decided to keep my tilt-shift fixed on one of my camera bodies and use another body for my regular lenses. This pushes me to use my tilt-shift more often and in all types of conditions. The results have been amazing.
When I began to play with this lens, my first challenge was to get the faces of my subjects in focus. Just that was a challenge.
With time and practice, I realized that I could be much more creative. It was an extraordinary tool for creativity; the only limitation was my imagination.
Beyond faces, I began to use it to emphasize certain details of an image. With a tilt-shift lens, you can almost completely blur an image and create something unexpected and unique that no other lens can produce.
Besides creating exceptional blur, the Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 tilt-shift is unique because it enables you to create flares like no other lens does. When used correctly, it creates a circle of light. This is especially true with sunlight at the beginning or end of a day, resulting in incredible images.
Take your time
Tilt-shift lenses require more time to manipulate and you have to take a few deep breaths before creating your images. When composing your image first think about what you want to highlight. It is important to visualize your composition before capturing the image.
This lens will require you to be patient. You will have to stop to reflect on what you want to create but you will be rewarded in the end.
As artists, it is often difficult to reinvent ourselves, especially for those whose profession is photography. It is easy to fall into the trap of the same recipes, week after week.
To improve, we have to continue to learn and educate ourselves. Experimentation is, for me, the best way to learn because it helps me to see farther, dream bigger, and reinvent myself.
The tilt-shift is not easy to use but it is worth taking a closer look. Used properly, it is an exceptional tool for creation, and gives us the gentle nudge we all need to leave our comfort zones.
Words & photos by Sonia Bourdon, member of the Click Canon 12
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