Jim Divitale
Jim Divitale

Jim DiVitale has been an Atlanta commercial advertising photographer and photography instructor for over 25 years.

Perspective control with Tilt Shift lenses

May 27, 2014

When photographers want quality in their images, they know it starts with as much attention and detail as possible before the shutter clicks. We know we have post-production there to enhance the images, but it should be used like an artist with a fine brush, not like a construction worker with a jackhammer.

I am a big believer in the nondestructive workflow to its fullest degree and refer to my approach to this as “the way of the fast retreat,” which requires being ready for any change with the least amount of backtracking as possible. It comes after a career of working with advertising photography projects that need to have as many options for last minute changes as possible. We used techniques like creating HDR images from multiple exposures, stitching panoramic images, and depth of field image stacking to increase both the quality and dynamic range of our images. But the most important factor is to get the best possible original image captured. One way to maintain the highest quality in a photograph is the ability to control the image perspective before the image is taken.

During the good old days of film, we used the view camera to properly set up the image by tilting the position of the film plane and lens to correct the perspective problems. They were very important techniques to master for both architecture and studio still life photographers. For me, the view cameras have been up for over 20 years now, but the tilt shift techniques live on in the DSLR world.

Using perspective and focus control tools in Adobe Photoshop can do wonders for correcting perspective in a digital photo, but at what price do we pay in quality of the pixels for all that distortion correction? The perfectionist in every digital photographer is always searching for a better way to achieve the best quality. There are four perspective control tilt/shift lenses available from Canon that I use with my DSLR cameras. The TS-E 17mm f/4L, TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II, TS-E 45mm f/2.8, and the TS-E 90mm f/2.8 have focal lengths that each have a very distinct look. These manual focus specialty lenses allow the photographer to straighten the perspective or extend and reduce the depth of field by changing the rise/fall and tilt/shift of the focus plane (as seen in the tilt shift tutorials by Vincent Laforet). This is the closet thing to view camera control I have found since my transition to digital capture from film in 1992.

In this first example, I am using the new Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L lens on the EOS-1Ds Mark III camera on this outdoor scene of a new pool and Jacuzzi. In the first shot, you can see that when the camera is pointed downward toward the pool, the posts of the screened-in pool area are angled and distorted. When doing wide-angle photography, the wider the lens you use, the more extreme the distortion is in the image. To correct the problem in the initial image, the camera is leveled out to look straight ahead instead of at a downward angle. The lens is then adjusted to shift the view downward, using precision adjustment knobs on the lens to bring the pool area into view while keeping the image sensor level. This corrects the general perspective of the scene to have areas that are straight to look straight while still looking downward to the pool surface. This saves computer time and increases quality in the final image as you don’t transform and interpolate any of the pixels in free transform.

Photo by Jim Divitale

 

Photo by Jim Divitale

 

In this next example, this interior staircase is a tough angle to shoot, without really distorting the railings as you look down to the first floor. The TS-E 17mm f/4L lens is wide enough to cover the area, but the distortion level is very high. By leveling out the camera view first, the image viewing area can be shifted downward to view the first floor. The distorted staircase is corrected at the point of image exposure and this means the RAW file is correct from the very beginning.

Photo by Jim Divitale

 

Photo by Jim Divitale

 

The perspective control lens is very important in the studio as well. The TS-E 90mm f/2.8 lens is great as a choice for product photography. The longer focal length allows the photographer to work a little further away from the set, making it easier to work in the lighting. The ability to tilt or shift the lens can extend the depth of field to follow the direction of the product’s placement and allows more control of what is sharp. For more creative use, the tilt of the lens can also be adjusted to limit the depth of field even more than just setting to a very wide aperture.

Photo by Jim Divitale

 

Photo by Jim Divitale

 

In these studio examples, the EOS-1Ds Mark III and the TS-E 90mm f/2.8 lens was used with the food on the tabletop images. In the first one, the lens was tilted forward to increase the depth of field. In the second image, the lens was tilted away from the subject so the depth of field is very shallow. The more control we have on the front end of taking a photograph, the better the quality is going to be after our Adobe Photoshop enhancements.

Till next time… work smarter, not harder. And I hope to see you on the Canon in Action tour where you can learn more about these lenses and much more.

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