Tilt/shift

When photographing big things, whether natural or man-made, one basic photographic problem is getting the subject into the frame so it at least looks reasonable. Here is St Marys and St Nicholas Church in Beaumaris taken with a 24mm lens.

The problem (1)

Standing in front of it, with the camera completely level, it’s only possible to get a partial shot: the lower portions of the church. One possible solution is to tip the camera up, but the result is this:

The problem (2)

Notice the tell-tale distortion with the lines of the church no longer vertical, but converging as they travel upwards. This can be corrected with some software (for example DxO Optics Pro) but the results are often not good: a portion of the frame gets cropped out (which usually includes part of the subject), and “stretching” the content over fewer pixels can degrade the image quality. The real solution is to shift the lens. I am spending the week on Anglesey and for the occasion have rented a tilt/shift lens, the PC-E Nikkor 24mm f/3.5D ED. This lens has been described as “a bitch, a real, true, what have I done to deserve this bitch”, but personally I have found it quite easy to use, although it is very much a take-your-time, manual-everything, tripod-only kind of lens. Keeping the camera completely level as in the first shot, and using this lens, it is possible to apply some “rise” by turning a knob: this shifts the frame upwards (nearly a whole frame height’s worth of extra is available). Simply stop when the image is framed as desired. The result is this:

The solution

Notice how the verticals are still true. One trick is to tip the camera a little anyway, as completely true verticals in such photos tend to upset the human eye, making it seem as if the building is toppling over.

Unfortunately, a tilt/shift lens can’t do anything for the overcast skies we are enjoying today – so a  little post-processing can eke out a little more interest:

St Marys and St Nicholas

Tilt

If raising and lowering the lens (the “shift” of tilt/shift lenses) is easy, the other function – tilt – seems more difficult to master. The optical rule governing the behaviour is called the “Scheimpflug principle” and – rather than grappling with this – I have been using the principle of twiddling the tilt knob and focus ring until everything looks as it should. The benefit of tilting is that it allow for great depth of field when photographing objects that share a plane  (i.e. near rocks and a far horizon). Another possible effect is the “fake miniature” look that one sees everywhere these days. Real experts can combine tilt & shift … but I’m yet to experiment with that

Time cannot age them

Comments (3) -

  • Adrian Morgan

    8/27/2012 12:59:19 PM | Reply

    Excellent and informative.

    I take numerous photographs (using infrared, mainly), but I would have happily settled for pic #2.

    I do not know if there is a tilt and shift lens available for my DSLR (Sigma SD14), but if there is, and if it is within my price range, I will be interesting in getting one.

  • fotograf nunta iasi

    9/24/2012 6:57:13 PM | Reply

    Thanks, good info! (but just for miniature effect I can use a lensbaby - which is cheaper)

  • Alex

    9/25/2012 10:49:05 AM | Reply

    It looks like there may soon be an inexpensive way to get a tilt/shift DSLR lens: Samyang are introducing one:

    www.dpreview.com/.../samyang-24mm-f3-5-tilt-shift-lens

    The lack of AF on Samyang lenses is usually off-putting, but here it won't matter ... and the price is likely to be right.

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