Using The Ultrawide Tilt-Shift Lens For Interior Photography

There are challenges associated with all types of architectural photography, but I find one of the biggest challenges with interiors is working in small spaces. Even homes that are big and beautiful, in reality, get much more compact once you’re looking through a lens. Utilizing an ultrawide perspective control or tilt/shift lens is a great way to deal with that.

I regularly use Canon’s 24mm and 17mm TSE lenses, and Nikon makes 19mm and 24mm options as well, along with offerings from other brands too. Here’s how to put such ultrawide PC/TS-E lenses to use when faced with working in compact quarters.

To Make a Wider Angle of View – Using the shift controls of a tilt/shift lens, you can capture a wider angle of view. With the camera locked down on a tripod and the tilt and shift zeroed out, compose the frame as usual and make an exposure. Then, to expand the frame vertically, raise the lens up to recompose just above the original composition and make another exposure. Then, drop the lens down to zero, and continue the move (technically called “fall”) down until the new composition is below the original, and shoot another frame. In Photoshop, you can layer these three images together and create a composition that makes better use of more of the circle of light produced by the lens. You can see this evidenced in the image below, with the original frame outlined. Because the tilt/shift lens rotates, you can turn it 90 degrees and repeat the movement, now technically a shift due to the side-to-side movement, and expand the frame horizontally. This is a great way to work in a small space with a lens that isn’t quite wide enough to create the ideal composition. By moving the lens this way, you effectively create a wider angle of view than the lens’ focal length alone would allow.

To Make a Higher-Resolution Image – The process described above—of using rise, fall and shift movements with a tilt/shift lens—not only makes maximum use of the image-forming circle of light produced by the lens to create a wider view, but it also can be used to create a higher-resolution image. By creating a series of multiple exposures, each with a shift applied to a different quadrant of the circle of light, the effective resolution of the resulting image file is increased. If you’re using a sensor with a pixel dimension of 4,000 by 5,000, for instance, once you expand the frame with shifts to create multiple exposures, you create an image that is wider than 5,000 pixels—say, 7,000 pixels wide or even more. And the shorter dimension increases by nearly 50 percent as well. In the end, the composited image might be closer to a 35-megapixel frame as opposed to the camera’s effective 20-megapixel sensor.

To Correct for Distortion – Any time you tilt a camera up or down, the resulting image will create vertical distortion that makes parallel lines appear to converge. Tilting up creates an effect called “keystoning,” while tilting down creates an effect called “ships prow.” In either case, the parallel lines of the actual structure no longer appear parallel in the picture. To compensate for this, the tilt/shift lens can be tilted up or down—up to compensate for a camera tilted down, and down for a camera tilted up—to retain true parallel lines and create nice, true compositions. Be careful about expecting too much from this movement, however. While a view camera’s lens standard can be tilted quite far, the movements on a tilt/shift lens are more restrained. They produce a powerful result but within reason. To Get the Best of Both Worlds in Terms of Perspective – One of the best uses of a tilt/shift lens in tight quarters is to use the shift control for rise and fall, in conjunction with a high or low camera angle, to produce what I like to think of as a composition that provides the best of both worlds. What I mean by that is, sometimes you want a high camera position to show, say, the surface of a kitchen countertop. But with the high camera position, the composition may cut off the bottom of the kitchen cabinets or maybe it simply doesn’t show enough of the floor. If you lowered the camera position to recompose, you might get the cabinets and the flooring in the frame, but now you’ve eliminated the ideal top-down vantage point to showcase the surface of the countertops. Using the tilt/shift lens, however, you can have the high camera position for the countertop viewpoint, but use the shift (technically a “fall”) to lower the front element of the lens and effectively shift the composition lower. So now you’ve got the best of both worlds in one frame: the top-down angle you desire, as well as the lower angle for the ideal composition.

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