I’m going to share my secret to accurate, professional looking real estate and architectural photography: tilt shift lenses!
This type of lens can be intimidating at first because it has more moving parts than a normal lens. It quite literally tilts and shifts! But broken down, they are not too complicated and can make some really interesting creative effects in camera. While there are ways to create these effects in post-production – even Instagram has a tilt shift filter – creating them in camera can save time and increase the accuracy of the final image.
First of all, what is a tilt shift lens, and how does it work?
In a normal camera lens, the lens is parallel to the image sensor, and they are in a fixed position. But a tilt shift lens allows the photographer to move the lens relative to the camera’s sensor, changing the plane of focus and perspective. This is broken down into two motions: tilting and shifting (hence the name!). By using these two motions, you have the ability to control the orientation, position, and angle at which the image is hitting the sensor.
Tilting means to angle the lens so that the plane of focus is not parallel to the sensor. Tilting allows the photographer to fine tune the depth of field by adjusting the plane of focus. This means that, while a regular lens can only focus on things the same distance from the camera, a tilt shift lens can focus on multiple objects at different distances from the lens.
Shifting means to move the lens slightly up and down, or left and right. This controls the perspective of the object you are shooting, and can straighten out converging lines.
So when would a photographer choose to use a tilt shift lens?
Tilt shift lenses can make fun, creative effects. One of the most common uses for changing the plane of focus is when making an image look miniature, also known as the Tiny Town effect. In the following example taken in Cinque Terre, Italy, the plane of focus is diagonal, causing buildings that are the same distance from the camera to be both in focus and out of focus. This gives the illusion that the town is miniature!
Tilt Shift Lens:
Tilt shift lenses could also be used to shoot photos or videos of your reflection in a mirror, without getting the camera in the shot. They are also very effective when shooting panoramas, as the shifting causes very little (if any) distortion.
Real Estate Photography
While there are some fun, creative ways to apply this technique, the most practical application for tilt shift lenses in real estate or architectural photography. The goal of this type of photography is to make the photo look as similar to real life as possible. But when shooting a building, you are almost always shooting from below, which causes distortion. When shooting with a regular or wide angle lens, this distortion causes the vertical lines to converge into a pyramid shape. The tilt shift lens corrects for that, and enables you to shoot buildings while keeping the lines completely vertical. Rather than pointing the lens up at an angle, the photographer is able to point it straight ahead and shift the lens up, keeping the perspective accurate.
As you can see in the example below, the regular lens causes the lines of the buildings to converge. By using a tilt shift lens, all of the lines remain perfectly vertical.
Tilt Shift Lens:
When taking photos inside, this distortion is even more obvious. The most popular way to capture the interior of any building is with a wide angle lens, because you are able to capture more of the room in one photo and the room appears bigger. But, as you can see in the following example, the objects in the room can look very stretched out and disproportional. The end table on the right appears much larger than it is in reality – it should be the same height as the couch – and the vertical lines are converging into an upside-down pyramid.
As a real estate photographer, your clients will not be happy if the photos do not accurately represent the listing in real life. The goal is to represent it as its best, but not stretch the truth.
Should I buy a tilt shift lens?
The one downside to tilt shift lenses is the price. Unfortunately, these can be quite expensive, which is why they aren’t a staple lens for most photographers. Canon, Rokinon, Nikon, Samyang and others all make tilt shift lenses, and the prices range from $900-$3,000. Unless you are shooting real estate or architecture regularly, it may not be worth it to invest that much in one of these lenses. But, often times, you can find used ones on eBay or Craigslist at a much more affordable price. Or, if you only need one for a specific shoot, they are also available to rent from various other vendors.
If you are willing to invest a bit of cash and some time to learn how they work, tilt shift lenses can elevate your photography to the next level. By using these techniques with tilt shift lenses, you will be able to take photos of real estate and architecture that rise above the competition. Your clients may not know your secret, but they will notice that your photos look much more accurate and realistic than other photographers’ photos!
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