There comes a time in every wedding photographer’s journey when complacency sets in. After years of shooting weddings over and over again, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. That’s when trying new techniques and tools might help you to feel inspired again. One way that I found that creative spark was by using a tilt-shift lens during wedding photos. While not an easy tool or technique to master, when done well it can add an element of interest and dynamism to an already good photo. In this article I’ll discuss various lenses and the ways I’ve used them to create unique and interesting wedding photos.
What Is A Tilt-Shift Lens?
A tilt-shift lens is a specialized lens designed for two primary purposes: 1) changing the plane of focus, and 2) minimizing distortion. In the first instance, you can use the lens to “tilt” the plane of focus so that two objects on different planes can be in focus at the same time as in the example below.
In the second instance, the lens can be used to “shift” so that lines in the image are straight rather than revealing distortion. An example of a use for this would be if you were photographing tall buildings. With a normal wide angle lens, you would see that the lines of the building would move closer together the further away from the camera the building gets. The shift feature allows you to straighten those lines for architectural accuracy as you can see in the example below.
A third and perhaps less common use for a tilt-shift lens is creative photography. For wedding photography, this can mean creating interesting landscapes for story-telling or by using it to create unique portraits.
Using A Tilt-Shift For Storytelling
A tilt-shift can be a great way to take an epic landscape and turn it into something just a bit more interesting. In the photo above you can see how tilting the lens just a bit diagonally gives the tree a kind of 3D quality.
The tilt-shift is also great for uniquely capturing those little elements of the day that help tell the story but which are also extremely over photographed. The Chicago Theatre sign in the image above is one of those spots that has been photographed a billion times, but the tilt-shift helps tell the story in a way that no one has probably seen before.
The tilt-shift is also really awesome when photographing city scenes and landscapes from above. It gives that miniaturization effect that makes the scene look other worldly.
A tilt-shift lens is also a great way to add interest or blur distractions for creative couples portraits. The challenge for this is ensuring that your couple is in focus. Since all tilt-shift lenses are manual focus, it helps to have a camera with focus peaking. If you don’t have focus peaking though, you can just zoom in and eye-ball it. Practice makes… descent. And remember to keep the “shift” feature of the camera set to 0 or perfectly centered when using it for creative effects.
Once you get the hang of manually focusing the tilt-shift for still photos, it’s also fun to use for shots where people are in motion. It’s harder to pull off, but if you nail it, you can create a pretty cool effect. I find that for these kinds of shots, it helps to shoot in live view and to keep adjusting the focus a bit to either side of the point where you think you’re focused on the subject. That way hopefully a few of them will be perfectly in focus.
The Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L is an exceptional lens for creative tilt-shift photos. It’s a super wide angle lens that is excellent for shots with an expansive scene. The lens is sharp in the center and a bit softer in the corners, but I’ve found that’s common for tilt shift lenses. And with all that wideness comes a good bit of distortion. But if you can avoid taking family photos with this lens with people on the edges, then you should be fine.
The Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 is the perfect mid-range tilt-shift lens. It’s just wide enough to get most of a scene, but close enough for some mid-range couples portraits. It’s not the sharpest lens in the world, but it’s sharp enough for our purposes.
If you’re a Nikon shooter, the Nikon PC-E Micro-NIKKOR 45mm f/2.8D ED should do the job for you (who comes up with these names?).
Other Tilt-Shift lenses you should consider:
In conclusion, if you’re looking for some inspiration as a wedding photographer, and you want to dig yourself out of a creative rut, a tilt-shift might be just the way to do that. Of course none of these lenses will come cheap. The most affordable, the Canon TS-E 45, comes in at around $1299 while the other lenses are north of $2000. But, if you have some extra money in the budget, a tilt-shift might just be what the doctor ordered.