Shift and Tilt

I feel kinda funny talking about cameras and lighting, because it’s one area (among many others) where I’m still learning.  I’ve learned everything I know, pretty much, from Marcus, including the trick of shooting with the camera upside-down, which was mentioned in the last post.

But, I’m going to talk about cameras and lighting anyway.  For this next shot, I’m messing around with the 2nd of my two lenses, which is a 45 mm tilt / shift lens.  I bought this lens because I like the wonky focus effects they allow for, and because it has the flexibility to be used as a normal 45 mm lens when the tilt / shift is set to 0.  My other lens is the 100mm macro, which definitely comes in handy for any kind of closeup.  The camera can be far away, yet appear to be close, allowing for a lot of room to work on the closeups.  (See the photos in the last post, and you’ll see how close up the puppet was in frame vs. how far away the camera was.)

For my next shot, the camera is in almost exactly the same position, yet this tilt / shift lens allows for a much wider shot.  Just for fun, I started playing around with the tilt function of the lens.

As far as I understand it, the main advantage tilt shifts have over regular lenses is in the tilt function, which allows you to create a non-parallel focal plane.  That is, with regular lenses, the plane of focus is always going to be parallel to the camera.  With a shallow depth of field, everything in the foreground is blurry, then there is a narrow mid-plane where things are in focus, and then everything in the background is blurry as well.  (Or, wherever you chose your plane of focus to be, will be a narrow window parallel to the window of the framing of the image.)

With the tilt function of the tilt / shift lens, the focal plane can be set at a diagonal — at any angle  you want.  There is no limitation of foreground / middleground / background planes.  My lens rotates so that the tilt doesn’t even have to be left-right, but it can be up-down, or anywhere in between.  The focal plane can be extremely angled, or angled just slightly.  This means you can chose exactly which elements in the scene that you want to be in focus, while throwing everything else out of focus.  Here’s a left-right extreme tilt example:


Note:  the plant and chair in the background to the left of Sabela, and the clock on the wall to the right of her.  In the first image, the chair and plant are in focus, while Sabela and the foreground stove are also in focus.  The focal plane is running at a diagonal from the back left to the front right of the scene, intersecting Sabela’s position.

In the second image, the clock and back cabinets are in focus, as well as Sabela.  The focal plane is moving from the back right to the front left.  You can see this most clearly on the floor.

Just for fun, I put together a little clip of this focal plane tilt happening in stop motion.  I wish I was crazy enough to try this while animating the puppet, but it’s actually quite tricky to animate smoothly, for one.  The tilt / shift would be very awkward to create a reference scale for.  And the focus needs to be changed manually, too.  With the puppet moving through frame as well, my head might just explode with the attempt to keep it all happening.

But, because I am just *slightly* crazy, I am going to try it out with a test walk cycle, to see how impossible it is.

Here it is happening with no puppet animation, where the lens is wide open for a shallow DOF, and the lens is tilting from one extreme to the other:

Kind of a strange effect, because it seems like the camera is panning a little, but it is not.  The only element moving here is the lens.

I will definitely be using this effect at some point in the film.  Who knows, maybe it’ll even happen in this walking shot.  😮

There is a really good explanation of tilt shift photography on Wikipedia, in case you care to learn more about it.

5 thoughts on “Shift and Tilt

  1. Shelley Noble

    As usual, you are like me, only with legitimate intelligence and competency.

    I too have been planning to use the tilt shift effect, specifically to pervert the concept of a miniature world. I wanted to exaggerate the smallness of my rather large-scale set/details to increase the sense of magical storybook effect.

    sample image I made with standard lens, edited, and then simulated tilt-shift effect in Photoshop.

  2. stephanie dudley

    Shelley that looks beautiful! I am a fan of this kind of softness created by shallow DOF effects… And it does seem to help make things look smaller.

    No probs Rich, hope you find one!

    1. stephanie dudley

      Thanks Yeimi! I used a Canon EOS 1D Mark iii, and 2 lenses: a 45 mm shift tilt and a 100mm macro lens. Oh and there were a couple of shots that used a wider angle tilt shift; I think it was the 24 mm.

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