Beat converging verticals and slanted lines
Capture stunning architectural images in the camera using a tilt-shift lens. Jeremy Walker explains how these specialized lenses work and the benefits of using one
We can all shoot architecture – after all, all you need is a building, no matter the size, grandeur or architectural style. Close-ups, details, shifted angles with converging verticals, night shots, the possibilities are almost endless. But what if you’re shooting for a client, perhaps an architect, who doesn’t want their building to appear tilted like a modern-day Leaning Tower of Pisa?
Converging verticals can make a building look very dramatic. But for the client who designed their building to be straight, it has to look straight. High-quality architectural photography was once the only area of the large-format technical camera, which allowed movements such as rising front, tilting and rotating, both of the lens panel and of the film plane.
Today, with precision engineering and advanced optical design, tilt and shift lenses allow us to achieve similar results with less hassle. What exactly is a tilt and shift lens? Specifically, a tilt and shift lens should be called a perspective control lens because it has the ability to control the perspective of the image.
Without getting too technical, this type of lens has elements that can be moved up or down, and in some cases side to side without having to move the camera body. Perspective control lenses come in a variety of focal lengths from 11mm to 135mm, although the most popular focal lengths are 17, 19, and 24mm. It is the precise and controlled up and down movement that interests an architectural photographer the most.
A small downside to this type of lens is that due to their complicated construction, they are only available as manual focus lenses. A Problem Solved If you want your building’s verticals to stay that way, your camera, lens, and building need to be parallel to each other. If you point the camera and wide-angle lens up, you will have converging verticals and the building will appear to be falling backwards.
The problem is solved by keeping the camera and perspective control lens level, on both axes and only moving the lens up, known as the rising edge. Keeping the lens parallel to the building will ensure that the vertical lines remain vertical. The amount of rising (or falling) edge on most lenses of this type is around 12mm of movement.
It doesn’t sound like a huge amount of adjustment, but a few millimeters can make a big difference to your image. Some people will say tilt-shift goals are out of date and anything can be done in post-production. Converging verticals can be fixed, but there is only a limited amount of crushing, pulling, and pushing of a pixel. If you want a very high quality, versatile lens, invest in a tilt and shift lens.
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Using the tilt function
Some perspective control lenses only have the up and down control, the part that controls the verticals in an image. The more advanced design of a PC lens also has a “Tilt” function that allows you to control the plane of the image.
This can be used to ensure image sharpness from front to back (the Scheimpflug principle, and that’s another article!). It is a very interesting and creative technique when used for architecture, street scenes and city views and will give you something a little different.
Use a tilt-shift lens for close-ups
Some tilt and shift lenses also have the ability to be used as close-up lenses. My own experience with the Nikon 45mm PC lens is that it was stunningly sharp and a brilliant all-round lens. Ideal for photographing city skylines as well as photographing close-up details of frosted leaves.
How it works
Everything must be level. A spirit level or an integrated electronic level are absolutely essential. Care and time should be spent making sure you are as specific as possible.
Use a gear head
A sturdy tripod with a smooth gear head will be preferable. There is nothing worse than locking everything in and finding that the horizon is not level or that a vertical is slightly wrong.
Manual focus only
There’s no autofocus on a tilt-shift lens, so allow time to manually focus on your subject. Use 100% live view for precise focus. Once you are satisfied, check the focus and check again.
Measure through the lens before making any ascent or descent adjustments. Reading a meter after any adjustment may affect the actual exposure. Shoot a test image and check the histogram just to make sure you are in the stage.
Reset all the movements you were able to perform on the objective. It is very easy to end the shot in one place, move to another and not realize that several millimeters of correction are already set on the lens and then wonder why your image does not look right !
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