When to Tilt Shift???

Manhattan and 42nd St. at dusk

Tilt-shift lenses were initially created for architectural photographers looking to counter the distortion that occurs when pointing a camera up or down (keystoning/pincushion distortion). You’ll notice in your images where you are pointing your camera up or down that vertical lines/shapes tend to lean in or out. The solution??? Unless you’re shooting with a view camera, the solution is a tilt-shift lens.

TS lenses, however, have creative applications as well. By tilting the plane of focus, the photographer is able to achieve a miniaturized or snow globe effect, manifested in the majority of the image having a blurred, dream-like or soft focus feel while a certain slice of the image remains sharp. It’s cliche, it’s trendy and it’s fun. Most importantly, however, it’s useful and extremely effective if not over utilized and when done correctly.

So–back to the question at hand–when/why tilt-shift???

Old Town Park City, UT

1. Creative Freedom–it’s different than the typical approach to imagery. It’s fun and it can lend an interesting, artistic and quirky look to your images. It might be the tool that helps you see many of the same old shots in a new way.

Trail Runner at Alta, UT

2. Visual Impact/Subject Isolation–TS lenses are a fantastic manifestation of the power of selective focus. Many times, I will be shooting wide angle imagery where I’m unable to achieve the very shallow DOF (depth of field) that I’d like to separate the subject from its surroundings. Without the use of a TS lens in images like that of the trail runner above, the subject would be completely lost in the frame. By using the TS effect, I’m able to provide a huge amount of context in the image, and still draw the focus directly to the activity/subject.

Fisherman on the Weber River, UT

3. Editorial/Commercial Spreads–it takes a certain type of editor or art director to actually use TS images, but when it’s right, it’s right. As mentioned above, TS images can make negative space out of filler that would have otherwise been busy and unusable. Words and logos pop off the page when placed on soft backgrounds. (why do you think that “blur” tool exists in PS???) TS images can work well for full bleed editorial spreads where the copy is placed directly on the image.

Pret Helmets Commercial Shoot

4. Product Highlighting–and really, highlighting anything else for that matter. It’s a great way to draw attention to specific parts of a product like a logo or any other cool feature, while still including the whole product.

Wildflowers at Willow Lake, UT

5. Depth of Field without stopping down–this is yet one more fantastic advantage to a TS lens. By tilting you plane of focus correctly, you can achieve greater depth of field without stopping your lens down. Essentially, you’re able to render both FG and BG objects sharp, while some of the middle elements remain somewhat soft. This is especially useful when you need depth of field, but can’t accommodate the longer shutter speeds required when stopping your lens down to those smaller apertures. Example? The above image of wildflowers at Willow Lake. In short–windy evening. I wanted both the flowers in the FG, and aspens in the BG to be sharp. Stopping the lens down in the typical manner of achieving this DOF gave me long multi-second exposures. By tilting my plane of focus with my TS lens, I was able to get this DOF while shooting at f5.6 and keeping that shutter speed in check.

My two biggest rules with TS lenses? ALWAYS check your focus at 10x zoom (if possible) on your live view display. If you don’t have live view, check it on your LCD after clicking the shutter. The margin for error when shooting TS lenses (especially at larger apertures) is very slim. You may think you’ve gotten exactly what you want, only to find that the sharpest part of your image is slight off from what you had hoped for.

Secondly, don’t overdo it. TS should be the exception rather than the rule. It can quickly lose it’s effectiveness when over-utilized. Make it your icing on the cake, instead of the other way around. TS lenses don’t come cheap, but they are tons of fun and extremely effective when used correctly. If you don’t own one, try renting one for a day and see if it’s something that fits in with your creative and technical needs. Have fun!

All of these images were captured with Canon cameras and the 24mm TS-E lens.

Timing Makes All The Difference

Comparison of two images of wildflowers and South Caineville Mesa by Utah landscape photographer Adam Barker.

Comparison of two images of wildflowers and South Caineville Mesa by Utah landscape photographer Adam Barker.

Timing really can make all the difference. Shooting at different times means shooting different light. And different light can give nearly the same image an entirely different feel.

Case in point is this study from my recent trip down to Caineville, UT. These two (nearly identical) images were shot just 13 minutes apart. As you can see, the image on the left still has direct light on the FG flowers. Due to the bluffs to the west, it was impossible to catch the last rays of light on the flowers themselves. This direct light is a bit hot for my taste, but it does accentuate the rows of flowers, and give the FG more of an elongated feel.

The image on the right showcases the flowers in open shade, and succulent late light on South Caineville Mesa. The open shade on the FG gives the viewer access to every last detail, and renders the colors softer and more luminescent. It doesn’t, however, showcase the leading lines of the flower rows.

This truly is the beauty of still photography. And this, really, is how you can go about defining your personal style and your preference to the types of images you’d like to capture. Study the subtle (or not so subtle) difference between images. Are you willing to sacrifice some of the detail in the FG flowers for the compositional definition, or do you prefer the soft tones and colors instead of the open shade? If you had to choose between displaying one or the other of these images, which would it be–and why?

Shot with Canon 5D MkII, 24MM TS-E 3.5II, Singh Ray LB ColorCombo Polarizer, Singh Ray 3-stop Reverse ND Grad

The Difference is in the Details

This is so cliche, yet so applicable. I trust you’ve noticed the new blog and new website. Take a moment to delve into the details on the new site–we’re proud of it!

Kevin Wright examines the morning's hatch activity on the Duchesne River, UT

Kevin Wright examines the morning's hatch activity on the Duchesne River, UT


Right now in Utah the fishing is better than good. Hatches of big, nasty dry flies are prolific, and I find it hard to leave the water these days. Glancing through my fly fishing portfolio the other day, I noticed a distinct lack of intimate shots. I have plenty of “big picture/knock your socks off with a crazy cool expansive vista” shots, but I was really lacking in the more soulful, up close and personal images. In particular, I saw hardly any fish shots at all. In general, I get a little turned off to fish shots, just because it seems there are so many out there and it’s a bit harder for me to capture something unique.

Who wants a piece? A head on view of a healthy brown trout caught and released on the Duchesne River, UT

Who wants a piece? A head on view of a healthy brown trout caught and released on the Duchesne River, UT

A brown trout is brought to the net on the Duchesne River, UT

A brown trout is brought to the net on the Duchesne River, UT

Regardless, I set my mind to capture something different for me the other day on a stretch of private water with a friend. I was destined and determined to shoot intimate details. Why? Well, partly because I just need them in my portfolio. But really, much of the time, these intimate images are the ones that speak most deeply to those enthralled with the activity or experience being shot. I love fly fishing for the moment I have cradling the fish in my hand after a hefty fight. I love to coax the fish back to an adequate energy level, and I love feeling him swim away under his own power. I love the color in the fins and the gill plate. I even love scratching my knuckles on their teeth when removing my fly–never hurt us to feel a little pain as well just to keep things real.

A healthy brown trout caught and released on the Duchesne River, UT

A healthy brown trout caught and released on the Duchesne River, UT

And so, my challenge to you as you pick up your camera this week to capture something close to your heart is this: forget what you’ve seen, heard and witnessed from other people. Have a sit down with yourself about why you love what you love, and then do your best to convey that in your imagery. It’s no thoughtless, easy task. But when you nail it, it’s mighty satisfying. Happy shooting.

Brown trout fin in golden light.

Brown trout fin in golden light.

Brown trout fin and scales.

Brown trout fin and scales.