How to Take A Tilt+Shift Photograph

If you want to know how to make a “fake miniature” image, use the selective Blur tool in Photograph. It’s commonly, and incorrectly, known as making a tilt-shift photograph.

If instead you want to know how to take a tilt+shift photograph, using a Tilt+Shift Lens, then this guide explains how to do it. Specifically, it is an explanation of how I create some of my images using either the Canon TS-E 24mm f3.5L Tilt+Shift Lens, the Canon TS-E 45mm f2.8 Tilt+Shift Lens, or the Canon TS-E 90mm f2.8 Tilt+Shift Lens.

In an earlier publication, I explained in detail the concept of tilt+shift photography, including the various applications of Tilt+Shift Photography to shoot such things as “straight” buildings, and distortion-free interior shots using the Shift function of a Tilt+Shift Lens. The fake miniature look is a replication of the Tilt function. (Note: Although it is described as a “tilt-shift” photograph, the fake miniature look does not replicate the Shift function.) And to be precise, the Tilt function of any Tilt+Shift lens is a replication of a View Camera.

I tend to use the Shift function to also shoot 3 slightly overlapping images to create a distortion-free wide angle panoramic. At maximum shift, a panoramic with an effective focal length of 14.9mm is achieved with the TS-E 24mm. As the focal plane is shifted relative to the camera body, which stays in the same position for all the shots, there is no distortion normally resulting from such a wide angle, especially on the full-frame Canon 5D Mark II I use, and the merger of the images is seamless. I use the same technique with the 45mm and the 90mm Tilt+Shift lenses because you end up with a wide but close image, with depth and clarity.

Creating linear DOF

The above shot was taken with the 24mm Tilt+Shift lens. Notice the narrow DOF running up the centre of the image. This was simply achieved by engaging the Tilt function vertically and manually focusing on the centre of the building. I also engaged the Shift function because of how close I was to the building, to reduce the angle of the sides. Thus, the further back I stand, the straighter the building.

Again, the 24mm Tilt+Shift lens was used for the above shot. Notice again the narrow DOF running along the middle of the image, only this time it’s horizontal. To tilt the lens horizontally all I had to was rotate the lens. (As I explain here, all Canon’s Tilt+Shift lens can be rotated in 15 degree increments relative to the camera body.)

Notice also that the DOF in the above shot running from left to right is centred on a part of the landscape which is NOT the same consistent length from the camera yet is perfectly in focus. This attribute of the Tilt function of any Tilt+Shift lens can be used to great effect in landscape photography when the left side of the DOF is foreground, for example, and the right side of the DOF is background. The greater the distance between the foreground and the background, the greater the visual impact from perfect focus long that line. This shot, taken with the 45m Tilt+Shift lens, is an example of what I mean:

Controlling the width of the DOF

The above shot is one of my personal favourites. It was shot with the 24mm Tilt+Shift lens with a horizontal tilt running across the bottom of the columns. However, it is very hard to discern the edge of the DOF and this is because of the aperture used, in this instance f9. The rule is this: the smaller the aperture, the wider the DOF.

This means you can use a Tilt+Shift lens to achieve a completely focused image from foreground to background. The following shots demonstrate how you can vary the tilted DOF by altering the aperture, starting from wide open (f2.8) to very small (f32). (Btw, if I’ve lost you on aperture, read this awesome easy-to-understand plain-English guide.)

90mm Tilt+Shift Lens, ISO 50, 1/15 sec at f2.8

Notice how narrow the vertical DOF is? It’s too narrow isn’t it? So:

90mm Tilt+Shift Lens, ISO 50, 1/10 sec at f4

Still not quite there is it? How about this one:

90mm Tilt+Shift Lens, ISO 50, 1/4 sec at f6.3

Now the subject is in focus, with focal drop-off to the left and right. Compare now to a fully stopped down Tilt:

90mm Tilt+Shift Lens, ISO 50, 4 sec at f32

Get the picture? A few things to note. First, the narrower the DOF the harder it is to focus on your subject through the viewfinder. Second, as you stop down to widen the DOF to its desired level, you need to make adjustments to speed and/or ISO. Third, I’ve placed the vertical DOF to the right of frame. When you use a Tilt+Shift lens with a rotate function, you can place the linear DOF anywhere in the frame.

Here’s some more comparisons, only this time using the 45mm Tilt+Shift lens. You’ll notice that the wider focal length of this lens makes the DOF control more pronounced because you can be very precise as to where you place the DOF. The apertures for the following shots are, in order, f2.8, f7.1 and f22:

Creating a panoramic image

For this demonstration, my location was Britannia Falls, in the Valley of the Waters in the Blue Mountains National Park. For all shots I used the Hoya ND x400 Filter, aka The Black Glass, on the original Canon TS-E 24mm f3.5L Tilt+Shift Lens, ISO 100, f8 over 15 seconds.

For most of my “3 shot shift” panoramics, I place the camera in the vertical (portrait) position on the tripod. (Landscape, or horizontal, position gives a very wide flat panoramic.) I then shoot the “middle” image first, especially if I want the subject to surrounded. This simply involves shooting a “normal” image, with the lens being used as a prime.

It is important to get the focus right for the first shot in a 3 shot shift pano. The Canon TS-E lenses are manual-focus with AF assist. Using f8 and focusing the middle image will give me enough DOF, as you do not vary the focus between shifts. (The focus issue is less of an issue when your subject plane is parallel to the camera.)

Leaving the camera alone, I then engage the Shift function, by simply turning a knob on the lens, either left or right, by increments up to 8mm either side of normal position. I tend not to shift to the maximum though as vignetting occurs. On this occasion I firstly shifted +6mm, to the right:

You can already see some overlap will occur. Again without touching the camera, I then turned the Shift knob back to the normal position then to the left, to -6mm, and took another shot:

It is important not to change your settings between shots, because otherwise the difference in exposure won’t make the subsequent merge seamless.

This is the merged result:

Now I wanted to try something different. I wanted to do another 3 shot shift, in exactly the same position, only this time I wanted to also engage the Tilt function of the lens (another knob!) to create a line of focus from the foreground to the background. And that rock ledge going off on a straight line from the foreground left to the background right was a perfect subject for that line of focus. What I hope to achieve by using the TIlt function this way is to give the image depth and make the subject stand out, ie forward.

Normally, depending on the position of the camera (portrait or landscape), the Tilt function will either give a vertical line of focus or a horizontal line of focus. But the Canon Tilt+Shift lenses also have a Rotate function which allows me to swivel the lens in 15 degree increments (lockable) or any increment (unlockable) in between. This allows you to angle the line of focus, which is exactly what I wanted for this composition.

So, again setting the Shift function back to normal for the middle shot, I rotated the lens so that the Tilt function was engaged along the line of the rock ledge. Whenever you engage the Tilt function, the focal plane is being altered (you can see the effect through the viewfinder as you turn the Tilt knob), so you may need to then slightly move the camera to bring your subject back into position. You should also focus your image after engaging the Tilt. On this occasion I focused on the middle of the rock ledge:

Since I was rotating the lens doing a 3 shot shift I also knew the shift to the left then the shift to the right would be at an angle:

Then the left again:

Each time you Shift the lens with Tilt engaged, you leave the focus as it was for the first image. This is because the focal plane has been tilted so your focus point is the same from foreground to background. The greater the Tilt, the narrower the plane. For this composition, the Tilt is rotated, so the focal plane is from left foreground to right background. Focusing the first image in the middle guarantees me focus along that angled plane for the remaining shots. If you instead re-focus for each Shift you will lose the natural DOF along the focus line.

Since all the exposures were only 15 seconds, I was under shade, and it was lightly raining, I didn’t have a problem with a substantial change in the light from the beginning of the first shot to the end of the third. On other occasions, especially when doing much longer exposures, the change in light can be an issue. Recently during another 3 shot shift pano, actual sunrise occurred during the third shot, but fortunately it turned out okay. On this occasion, as I had used the Rotation function as well, this was the merged result for using all 3 functions for 2 of the shots, and 2 for the middle one:

It also gives you a good idea of the overlap which occurs. But note you cannot pick where the actual merges are. SInce the merged result has “bumps”, it needed to be cropped:

This is the final image:

So, even though it is a severe crop, it still is a wide shot and gives me what I want in terms of size. On other occasions when the Rotate function is used and the increments of angle difference are smaller, less cropping is required.

This is the same image in colour:

And with Lo-Fi applied in post:

I hope this Journal has been informative.



  1. Tutorial created 24 April 2011
  2. Additional content added 6 June 2012

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