An Old Friend and a Camera Lens

I recently saw an impressive tilt-shift image posted by a friend on Facebook. It was a long shot of the autumn color here in the Ozarks. It made me think about my neglected tilt-shift set up. Languishing in the old camera bag, I hadn’t touched it in over a year. Frankly, it intimidated me. I used it a couple of times and got 2-3 images that I liked – but it took more work. It was less intuitive. Getting good color was not as easy since the set-up only works in manual – you can set your shutter speed and ISO – but the rest is all you. I wrote briefly about using it ages ago in one of my early posts, and I got one shot from that afternoon that I regularly sell prints of.

This is an image I took last year with the tilt-shift lens at a local lake. The tilt lets me focus on a small portion of the image and lets the rest blur. It takes a boring angled shot of a dock and makes it pretty interesting to investigate visually.

This is an image I took last year with the tilt-shift lens at a local lake. The tilt lets me focus on a small portion of the image and lets the rest blur. It takes a boring angled shot of a dock and makes it pretty interesting to investigate visually.

Here’s how tilt-shift works – the lens is offset at an angle from the sensor – so your plane of focus is not parallel. That angle lets you selectively focus on a single portion of the image and lets the rest blur. If you have seen images of city shots where the people and cars look like dioramas – those images are tilt shift. That plane of focus shifts the perspective creating the illusion that things are smaller than they really are in proportion to the overall image. The gear it takes to do this is pretty cool. It kind of looks like a mix between Frankenstein and Steampunk –

This is my tilt-shift set up - note the aperture ring in the center - its a coated metal disc held in place by magnets. To change the aperture you change out the ring. f22 is like a pinhole. f1.4 is no ring at all.

This is my tilt-shift set up – note the aperture ring in the center – its a coated metal disc held in place by magnets. To change the aperture you change out the ring. f22 is like a pinhole. f1.4 is no ring at all.

A side view of the tilt-shift set up on my tripod. Each of the threaded rods help you to fine tune the shift. For the shots in this post I went with a more casual approach - point, focus, shoot, try again.

A side view of the tilt-shift set up on my tripod. Each of the threaded rods help you to fine tune the shift. For the shots in this post I went with a more casual approach – point, focus, shoot, try again.

You compress the outer ring towards the camera body at an angle until you see something that you think is interesting. Once you get a sense of the image you lock that ring and then you can focus using a slide on the ring. I find that it works best to find a sweet spot and then look for things to focus on within your field of vision. At this point it becomes more intuitive.

I’ve been shooting some landscapes this way and will probably write a post about them soon, but last night on my way home from work I had a chance meeting on my road – an old friend approached me as I was checking my mail box. All of the shots that follow were taken shortly after sunset. I removed the aperture ring altogether to let in as much light as possible.

My road at sunset - by choosing that one spot of brighter color in the distance to bring into focus, I make your eye look down the road and into the photo.

My road at sunset – by choosing that one spot of brighter color in the distance to bring into focus, I make your eye look down the road and into the photo.

Ben is a wonderful old friend. Every time I see him at the mail box I roll down the window and say hi. At first he was much more interested in some petting than in being the subject of a blog post, but he rolled with it. The wonderful thing about tilt-shift is that it lets you look at something you see all the time and see it with new eyes – a fresh perspective.As I shot I thought about his noble look, his curious and kind eyes, his friendly posture. It’s always good to look at an old friend with new eyes.