How To Use a Tilt-shift Lens


As mentioned in a previous post (The Tilt-Shift Effect Explained in an Easy Way), the most important part of tilt-shift photography is understanding the difference between “tilting” and “shifting”.

Getting started with a tilt-shift lens.

Assuming you own (your first) tilt-shift lens, let’s take a look at the following picture.

Foxholes Hertford - shot by Chris Dowsett

There are a couple of things you need to notice here:

  • There is an area in focus and a blurry area. The size of the first area is called the depth of field (DOF)
  • The DOF is linear and almost perfectly horizontal
  • The picture was taken from a high angle

Combining these components, you get what is called the “miniature effect”, which is also referred to as the tilt-shift effect.

So the very first thing to do when trying to when you try to achieve the same type of effect is to approach your subject from a certain distance, preferably from a higher angle and look for a nice composition.

Once you have that, the effect is almost solely achieved by tilting the lens and thereby changing the depth of field. By rotating your tilt-shift lens, you are able to manipulate the depth of field in a way that both a subject in the back and in the front can be in focus.

What you want to do is tilt and control the lens in a way that you create a not completely horizontal looking line that is in focus as in the example bellow, while everything else is blurred out. By giving it a little diagonal twitch, you are able to make the effect look more subtle.

It’s also a good idea to avoid shooting wide open. It’ll give you more room and depth of field to play around with!



3 tips on using tilt-shift lenses.

    1) Use manual focus.

If you are used to autofocusing your subjects, this might be something you’ll get frustrated about when starting. That’s why thinking about your picture is so important. In order to get the best results, you’ll first need to think about your composition, then about the subjects you wish to have in focus and at last trying to get the DOF at the right spot.

    2) Don’t be thrifty with your shots.

Chances are your first shots won’t be spectacular. It’s hard enough to get great shots using a regular lens, let alone a tilt-shift lens.

Unless you are shooting analog, the only limit on your shots is your memory card. So don’t be afraid to press that button!

    3) Practice.

If you want to be good, you need to practice. A lot.

At the start, tilt-shift lenses can be confusing and hard to master. That’s why you need to force yourself to use it on a regular basis if you want to take your tilt-shift photography to the next level.


If you have any more questions about tilt-shift photography, make sure to leave them in the comments!


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