The Tilt-shift Effect Explained In An Easy Way


Tilt-shift lenses allow you to experiment with photography in an entirely new way.  But how exactly do they work?


Getting started with tilt-shift photography.

When you hear about tilt-shift photography, chances are that it’ll be about photographs that display tiny buildings, streets filled with”toy cars” or landscapes that look like a playground. However, a tilt-shift lens can be used for much more than just miniaturizing the world around you.

First things first, a tilt shift lens consists of two movements: tilting and shifting. Both adjustments reposition and realign the lens as it sits on your camera.



Let’s start with the most difficult part. Tilting allows you to “tilt” your lens a certain degree up or down (most lenses go up to 8.5 degrees). Due to this movement, you’re able to change your plane of focus and maximize or minimize your depth of field.

In normal conditions, the plane of focus of your camera is parallel to the plane of your lens. Suppose you have 2 objects you wish to capture in one photo: mountains in the distance and a tree in the foreground. Any given aperture will give you a certain depth of field, allowing you to get a certain area in focus. However, with a normal lens, it would be impossible to get both the tree as the mountain in focus.


When using a tilt shift lens and tilting the lens till a certain degree, you’re tilting the lens plane and altering the focus. This effect is known as the Scheimpflug principle. It allows you, as a photographer, to capture both the foreground and background in focus, with any given aperture.

This manipulation enables you to achieve equal or more depth of field without having to change your aperture and therefore giving you more freedom with the shutter speed.

Another creative way to comes with the tilt function is the “miniature effect”. By taking a high-angle shot from a certain distance, combined with a very shallow depth of field, you are able to create beautiful miniaturized photographs.

There are even some photographers who have become famous for their tilt-shift photography (and usage of the miniature effect), like Olivo Barbieri and Vincent Laforet.

Important notice: these days the tilt-shift effect can perfectly be created without even having to touch a camera. There’s an (unfortunate) trend nowadays where photoshop is used more and more to recreate the effect.



Tilt-shift photography was originally designed to resolve distortion problems (especially with wide angle lenses) when photographing buildings and tall objects. By shifting your lens, you can move your lens up or down and left or right, enabling you to have full control over the perspective of your photos.

When you go out to photograph buildings, you’ll often be obligated to shoot from a certain angle in order to get the entire building into the picture. One solution could be to just move backward, but in city photography, that’s just not always an option. Shifting the lens allows you to maintain or correct that perspective, without having to relocate.

Knowing this, it doesn’t take much to know how beloved this type of lens is for architecture photographers.

shift function


The shifting function can also be a great tool for landscape photographers. It’s an excellent way to shoot beautiful, panoramic pictures by combining multiple pictures in post together with programs like photoshop. Because you will always keep the same perspective, you can simply shift the lens to the left and right, take different shots and bring them all together into one panoramic photo.

When shooting a panorama, it’s useful to bring a tripod with you, in order to minimize changes in perspective.

If you want 100% accuracy, the best thing to do when creating panoramic shots is to move the camera body instead of the camera lens. In this way, you’re absolutely sure to maintain the same perspective for each shot, since your lens stays at exactly the same position.


panorama 1

panorama 2


More information?

If you are interested in learning more about tilt-shift photography, there’s a great book written by Richard Silver that gives you an in-depth explanation of the possibilities that a tilt shift lens provides, accompanied with beautiful images.


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