Use a tilt-shift lens to be a little more creative with your portraits

Feb 19, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Use a tilt-shift lens to be a little more creative with your portraits

Feb 19, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Often relegated to the realms of architectural, product photography and the occasional bit of timelapse, tilt-shift lenses aren’t typically found in a portrait photographer’s bag. But if “portrait photographer” describes you, then should you consider getting one? Eric Floberg things so, and regularly uses his Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 to create more interesting and unusual portraits on location.

YouTube video

Tilt-shift lenses, as the name suggests, have two functions that make them different to normal lenses. They tilt and they shift.

These movements allow the lens to shift the plane of focus, as well as reposition the centre of the frame across the sensor. They’re often used for products to help keep level surfaces level even when they’re at the bottom of the frame without having to point your camera up slightly. They’re also used a lot in architecture to help eliminate converging verticals, or the “lean” buildings often exhibit when you’re looking up at them.

But they can also have some pretty creative uses when it comes to portraits, as Eric demonstrates. One particularly good example for me is the first one he shows. It has the effect of suggesting a deep depth of field while still having that shallow depth of field look. Of course, it doesn’t really have a deep depth of field. Here, Eric uses the tilt control to rotate the plane of focus to keep two people at different distances from the camera sharp and in focus, which is why their faces are sharp while their clothes are not. This would be impossible using a traditional lens.

We all know the effect that tilt-shift lenses can have on landscapes, making them appear as though they’re miniature worlds. But that’s not all you can do with them. The same technique can work brilliantly for helping to draw the viewer’s focus more to your subject than the environment.

Such techniques used to be fairly common in the days of large format film photography, where basically every lens is a tilt-shift (and then some). But as the world moved over to more compact 35mm format cameras, tilt-shift capabilities became something of a speciality.

They’re not a lens I would’ve considered using for portraits. But being able to shift the plane of focus to keep two people at different distances sharp would be very handy.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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5 responses to “Use a tilt-shift lens to be a little more creative with your portraits”

  1. Sergi Yavorski Avatar
    Sergi Yavorski

    Or use this blur effect in Photoshop. BTW, doesn’t look good in this case.

  2. Kambis Avatar
    Kambis

    Isn’t the point of a tilt-shift lens to bring a plane into focus which cannot be in focus otherwise? If you just want to blur the top or bottom of the image you can do it in post too and to be honest it usually looks weird. Photographers of course know that it can be done with a tilt-shift lens but most other people will wonder why half of the picture is blurry.

    1. davv Avatar
      davv

      exacty, it will only be understandable to photographers.
      anyone else will wonder why a weird instacrap filter was applied to an otherwise possibly great shot.

  3. Tronn Hansen Avatar
    Tronn Hansen

    The examples in this article actually drew me away from the subjects, because the effect was really poorly done.

  4. Richard Sullivan Avatar
    Richard Sullivan

    Can you do tilt shift miniature portraits? Also, what is the result if you do title shift miniature photography on actual miniatures? I wonder. Do they become super miniature?