Tilt–shift photography

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Example for a creative photograph taken with a tilt-shift lens. The lens was shifted downwards to avoid perspective distortion: all vertical lines of the skyscrapers run parallel to the edges of the image. Tilting around the vertical axis resulted in a very small region in which objects appear sharp. (The depth of field is actually not reduced but tilted in reference to the image plane.) The picture shows Hong Kong viewed from Victoria Peak.
Tilt-shift photography of Campos do Jordão, Brazil

Tilt–shift photography is the use of camera movements on small- and medium-format cameras, and sometimes specifically refers to the use of tilt for selective focus, often for simulating a miniature scene.

Sometimes the term is used when the large depth of field is simulated with digital post-processing; the name may derive from a perspective control lens (or tilt–shift lens) normally required when the effect is produced optically.

"Tilt–shift" encompasses two different types of movements: rotation of the lens plane relative to the image plane, called tilt, and movement of the lens parallel to the image plane, called shift.

Tilt is used to control the orientation of the plane of focus (PoF), and hence the part of an image that appears sharp; it makes use of the Scheimpflug principle. Shift is used to adjust the position of the subject in the image area without moving the camera back; this is often helpful in avoiding the convergence of parallel lines, as when photographing tall buildings.

History and use

Movements have been available on view cameras since the early days of photography; they have been available on smaller-format cameras since the early 1960s, usually by means of special lenses or adapters. Nikon introduced a lens providing shift movements for their 35 mm SLR cameras in 1962,[1] and Canon introduced a lens that provided both tilt and shift movements in 1973;[2] many other manufacturers soon followed suit. Canon currently offers four lenses that provide both movements while Nikon offers three.[3] Such lenses are frequently used in architectural photography to control perspective, and in landscape photography to get an entire scene sharp.

Some photographers have popularized the use of tilt for selective focus in applications such as portrait photography. The selective focus that can be achieved by tilting the plane of focus is often compelling because the effect is different from that to which many viewers have become accustomed. Ben Thomas, Walter Iooss Jr. of Sports Illustrated, Vincent Laforet and many other photographers have used this technique.

Camera movements


24 mm lens which tilts (as seen above) and also shifts

A camera lens can provide sharp focus on only a single plane. Without tilt, the image plane (containing the film or image sensor), the lens plane, and the plane of focus are parallel, and are perpendicular to the lens axis; objects in sharp focus are all at the same distance from the camera. When the lens plane is tilted relative to the image plane, the plane of focus (PoF) is at an angle to the image plane, and objects at different distances from the camera can all be sharply focused if they lie in the same plane. With the lens tilted, the image plane, lens plane, and PoF intersect at a common line;[4][5] this behavior has become known as the Scheimpflug principle. When focus is adjusted with a tilted lens, the PoF rotates about an axis at the intersection of the lens's front focal plane and a plane through the center of the lens parallel to the image plane; the tilt determines the distance from the axis of rotation to the center of the lens, and the focus determines the angle of the PoF with the image plane. In combination, the tilt and focus determine the position of the PoF.

In applications such as landscape photography, getting everything sharp is often the objective; by using tilt, both the foreground and background can often be made sharp without the use of a large f-number. When the PoF coincides with an essentially flat subject, the entire subject is in focus; for a subject that is not flat, obtaining foreground and background sharpness relies on the depth of field, though the sharpness can often be obtained with a smaller f-number than would be needed without the use of tilt. Basically, this shifts the whole plane of focus keeping one of the three axes as it is.[6]

The PoF can also be oriented so that only a small part of it passes through the subject, producing a very shallow region of sharpness, and the effect is quite different from that obtained simply by using a large aperture with a regular camera.

Using tilt changes the shape of the depth of field (DoF). When the lens and image planes are parallel, the DoF extends between parallel planes on either side of the PoF. With tilt or swing, the DoF is wedge shaped, with the apex of the wedge near the camera, as shown in Figure 5 in the Scheimpflug principle article. The DoF is zero at the apex, remains shallow at the edge of the lens's field of view, and increases with distance from the camera. For a given position of the PoF, the angle between the planes that define the near and far limits of DoF (i.e., the angular DoF) increases with lens f-number; for a given f-number and angle of the PoF, the angular DoF decreases with increasing tilt. When it is desired to have an entire scene sharp, as in landscape photography, the best results are often achieved with a relatively small amount of tilt. When the objective is selective focus, a large amount of tilt can be used to give a very small angular DoF; however, the tilt fixes the position of the PoF rotation axis, so if tilt is used to control the DoF, it may not be possible to also have the PoF pass through all desired points.

View camera users usually distinguish between rotating the lens about a horizontal axis (tilt), and rotation about a vertical axis (swing); small- and medium-format camera users often refer to either rotation as "tilt".


If a subject plane is parallel to the image plane, parallel lines in the subject remain parallel in the image. If the image plane is not parallel to the subject, as when pointing a camera up to photograph a tall building, parallel lines converge, and the result sometimes appears unnatural, such as a building that appears to be leaning backwards.

Shift is a displacement of the lens parallel to the image plane that allows adjusting the position of the subject in the image area without changing the camera angle; in effect the camera can be aimed with the shift movement.[7] Shift can be used to keep the image plane (and thus focus) parallel to the subject; it can be used to photograph a tall building while keeping the sides of the building parallel. The lens can also be shifted in the opposite direction and the camera tilted up to accentuate the convergence for artistic effect.

Shifting a lens allows different portions of the image circle to be cast onto the image plane, similar to cropping an area along the edge of an image.

Again, view camera users usually distinguish between vertical movements (rise and fall) and lateral movements (shift or cross), while small- and medium-format users often refer to both types of movements as "shift".

Lens image circle

Whereas the image circle of a standard lens usually just covers the image frame, a lens that provides tilt or shift must allow for displacement of the lens axis from the center of the image frame, and consequently requires a larger image circle than a standard lens of the same focal length.

Applying camera movements

Use of lens shift to control distortion

On a view camera, the tilt and shift movements are inherent in the camera, and many view cameras allow a considerable range of adjustment of both the lens and the camera back. Applying movements on a small- or medium-format camera usually requires a tilt–shift lens or perspective control lens. The former allows tilt, shift, or both; the latter allows only shift. With a tilt–shift lens, adjustments are available only for the lens, and the range is usually more limited.

Tilt–shift and perspective-control lenses are available for many SLR cameras, but most are far more expensive than comparable lenses without movements. The Lensbaby SLR lens is a low-cost alternative for providing tilt and swing for many SLR cameras, although the effect is somewhat different from that of the lenses just described. Because of the simple optical design, there is significant curvature of field,[8] and sharp focus is limited to a region near the lens axis. Consequently, the Lensbaby's primary application is selective focus and toy camera–style photography.

Selective focus

Selective focus can be used to direct the viewer's attention to a small part of the image while de-emphasizing other parts.

With tilt, the effect is different from that obtained by using a large f-number without tilt. With a regular camera, the PoF and the DoF are perpendicular to the line of sight; with tilt, the PoF can be almost parallel to the line of sight, and the DoF can be very narrow but extend to infinity. Thus parts of a scene at greatly different distances from the camera can be rendered sharp, and selective focus can be given to different parts of a scene at the same distance from the camera.[9]

With tilt, the depth of field is wedge shaped. As noted above, using a large amount of tilt and a small f-number gives a small angular DoF. This can be useful if the objective is to provide selective focus to different objects at essentially the same distance from the camera. But in many cases, effective use of tilt for selective focus requires a careful choice of what is sharp as well as what is unsharp, as Vincent Laforet has noted.[10] Because the tilt also affects the position of the PoF, it may not be possible to use a large amount of tilt and have the PoF pass through all desired points. This may not be a problem if only one point is to be sharp; for example, if it is desired to emphasize one building in a row of buildings, the tilt and f-number can be used to control the width of the sharp area, and the focus used to determine which building is sharp. But if it is desired to have two or more points sharp (for example, two people at different distances from the camera), the PoF must include both points, and it usually is not possible to achieve this while also using the tilt to control DoF.

Selective focus using tilt appears in motion pictures such as Minority Report, (2002). Director of photography Janusz Kamiński says he prefers using tilt–shift lenses to digital post-production as too much digital can detract and "It doesn’t look organic."[11]

Miniature faking

Miniature simulation using digital post processing

Selective focus via tilt is often used to simulate a miniature scene,[12][13][14] so much that "tilt-and-shift effect" has been used as a general term for some miniature faking techniques.[15]

Basic digital post-processing techniques can give results similar to those achieved with tilt, and afford greater flexibility and control, such as choosing the region that is sharp and the amount of blur for the unsharp regions.[16] Moreover, these choices can be made after the photograph is taken. One advanced technique, Smallgantics, is used for motion-pictures; it was first seen in the 2006 Thom Yorke music video "Harrowdown Hill", directed by Chel White. Artist Olivo Barbieri is well known for his miniature-faking skills in the 1990s.[17] Artist Ben Thomas's series Cityshrinker extended this concept to miniature faking major cities around the world, his book Tiny Tokyo: The Big City Made Mini (Chronicle Books, 2014),[18] depicts Tokyo in miniature.

See also


  1. Sato, Haruo. "Tale Seventeen : PC-Nikkor 28 mm f/4". Nikon Corporation. Retrieved 2008-07-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Canon TS 35 mm f/2.8 SSC lens. Canon Camera Museum. Retrieved on 2008-07-10.
  3. nikon.ca
  4. Stroebel, Leslie (1976). View Camera Technique (3rd ed.). London: Focal Press. p. 28. ISBN 0-240-50901-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Wilson, Andrew (May 1, 2006). "Shift/tilt lenses bring new perspectives". Vision Systems Design. Retrieved 2008-05-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Tilt–shift working", "cow.mooh.org", Page contents copyright (c) Bhautik Joshi, 2010.
  7. Bond, Howard (May–June 1998). "Setting Up the View Camera". Photo Techniques: 41–45.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> A transcription is available on the Large Format Page.
  8. Lensbaby web site FAQ, "Is the Lensbaby like a tilt–shift lens?"
  9. Stroebel, 1976
  10. "Interview: Vincent Laforet". Canon USA, Inc. Retrieved 2010-04-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Kaminski, Janusz (2010-04-02). "Janusz Kaminski on The Diving Bell and the Butterfly". MovieMaker. Retrieved 2010-04-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  12. Segal, David (2007-02-07). "Can Photographers Be Plagiarists?". Slate. Retrieved 2007-02-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Rodrigues, Vailancio (2008-11-16). "50 Beautiful Examples of Tilt–Shift Photography". Smashing Magazine. Retrieved 2008-11-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Baryshnikov, Evgeniy (2012-01-10). "More than 60 Examples of miniature faking Photography created using Tilt-Shift Generator software". Retrieved 2012-05-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  16. "TiltShift Effect Generator". FaceGarage. 2014-11-30. Retrieved 2014-11-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Fergusson, WM (9 December 2007). "Fake Tilt-Shift Photography". NY times. Retrieved November 2014. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Thomas, Ben (2014-04-10). "Tiny Tokyo; The Big City Made Mini". Retrieved 2014-05-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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