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Design & Style

Tilt-Shift Lenses Explained: How to Shoot Tilt-Shift Photography

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: May 7, 2020 • 2 min read

A tilt-shift lens is useful for photographers who shoot architecture, landscapes, or who wish to have greater control over their camera's depth of field.

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What Is a Tilt-Shift Lens?

A tilt-shift lens (also called a perspective control lens) changes the position of a lens in relation to a camera’s image sensor. When the lens tilts so that it is no longer parallel to the camera’s image sensor, it shifts the plane of focus and alters the depth of field. When the lens shifts, it recenters the image entering your camera, allowing you to take photos from what appear to be different vantage points without moving the camera body.

What's the Difference Between Tilt Control and Shift Control?

All tilt-shift lenses are manual focus camera lenses that include a tilt control knob and a shift control knob, each of which performs a separate function.

  • Tilt control: Tilting is a type of selective focus, controlling the part of a photo that looks sharp by tilting the focal plane in relation to the image sensor plane. The tilt function lets you simultaneously focus on two subjects different distances from your camera. You can also tilt the plane of focus in the same direction as the subject's plane in order to create an enormous depth of field and bring the subject's plane into an extremely sharp focus—this is known as the Scheimpflug principle.
  • Shift control: Shifting allows you to frame your shot without having to move the camera body by shifting the lens parallel to the image plane. The shift function decreases distortion when shooting with a wide-angle lens and corrects vertical line convergence when shooting from a low or high angle.
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5 Reasons to Use a Tilt-Shift Lens

You can use a tilt-shift lens for various types of perspective correction.

  1. To create a miniature effect: By using the tilt control knob, you can make a life-sized photo appear like a miniature scale model. The lens tilt mimics a shallow depth of field by adding a lens blur effect to the photo. The key to achieving this popular look is to take the photo from a high vantage point (at least 10 feet above the subject).
  2. To eliminate perspective distortion in architectural photography: Perspective distortion, also called vertical line convergence, occurs when you angle a camera's sensor plane upward when using a normal lens to photograph a tall building. This effect causes images of outdoor architecture to appear tapered. Use the shift control knob to angle your lens up toward the building without moving the camera's sensor plane. This feature also comes in handy when shooting high ceilings indoors.
  3. To photograph a mirror: Use the shift feature to shoot into a mirror without you and your camera appearing in the mirror's reflection. Shifting the lens sideways allows you to stand to the side of the mirror while still appearing as though you're facing it head-on.
  4. To shoot landscape photography: Shifting the lens decreases wide-angle lens distortion, making a tilt-shift lens the perfect option for landscape photographers. A sideways lens shift also prevents distortion of the horizon in panoramic photos; this reduces the post-processing time required to stitch panoramic shots together.
  5. To shoot portraits with multiple points of focus: Use the tilt control knob to focus on two different subjects to help your photograph tell a story.

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