Digital Dark Room: A Brief Guide To Tilt/Shift Photography

<p>The digital revolution rapidly changed the way we capture and create images, but we all know that owning a digital camera doesn&#8217;t make you a photographer. Here&#8217;s a guide to implementing old-school techniques in a digital way.</p>

Laurent Hoffmann

As DSLRs become more affordable and accessible, and all modern cellphones now come equipped with multi-pixel cameras, everyone's got the tools to become the next photographic pioneer—the digital-age Louis Daguerre, if you will.The technological revolution condenses what used to take years of technique and training into simple workarounds or apps, accessible with the mere click of a button. Anyone can be an expert… at least in theory. But you've got to know the rules in order to break 'em. This week's snapshot: tilt/shift photography.

Where did it come from?
The very first large format cameras with their accordion-like construction were already able to move the front lense’s position in a parallel, tilting or rotating movement to the axis of the film. In the early ’60s Nikon and Canon began to assemble special lens constructions and adapters for compact cameras.

Tilt/shift photography involves two different techniques—namely, the tilt effect and the shift movement. The tilt effect describes an angular movement of the lens in relation to the image sensor. The shift effect, however, is a parallel movement to the image sensor which, for example, also finds application in projection installations where beamers often can’t be installed in front of the silver screen.

Tilt/shift enables a meticulous control over the parameters of depth of field, plane of focus, and the perspective of the motif. Standard lenses reproduce a focus plane parallel to the photographer and his camera, resulting in an effect that can easily isolate the object/subject from the background, like in portraiture. If, however, the object is in perspective, like a road sign seen from an angle, the front lens has to match the same perspective to draw a correct plane of focus. This is where the tilting technique comes in. The shifting effect helps in keeping a correct perspective and limiting geometric distortions of parallel lines. The two techniques are essential for architectural photography.

Digital Applications
Whereas the shift effect can be easily digitally recreated, the tilt effect is hardly reproducible in post-production. You can build your own DIY tilt lens or try out Lensbabies as cheap starter drugs. The tilting effect, however, can be faked with some image correction, vignetting and blurring workarounds. The Adobe Air app TiltShift Generator, which is also available for the iPhone, is a nifty tool to create fake miniature scenarios (photos above) in seconds. Radiohead’s Harrowdown Hill shows the technique applied to video. Some stunning effects can be achieved by combining the tilt effect with time-lapsed image sequences, too, as in the video below.

Next week: HDR

Photos by: Chad Connell, Tom Allen, Ed McGowan, Alex Edgar