How a Tilt/Shift Lens Helps Keep Buildings Upright

I’ve been shooting a lot of exterior architecture lately. I’ve noticed that my collection of Tilt/Shift (PC-E) lenses were the only lenses I was using – with good reason. The shift function allows me to maintain a level camera – which is essential for maintaining straight vertical lines – while controlling the perspective of the image.

Here is the setup. I am shooting the south east side of a building during the morning hours. The building is a total of 5 floors tall. A chain link fence prevents me from taking the shot from the ideal distance with the 45mm lens, so I must shoot close to the building and use the 24mm lens.

Exterior architecture photography

For the first shot, the camera is positioned about 5 feet above the ground and perfectly level. This results in the following photo.

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The verticals are straight, but the top of the building is not in the shot.

Without a tilt/shift lens, there are two options – raise the camera about 20 feet or tilt it up. In addition to being difficult, raising the camera would alter the point of view and show the parking lot. I prefer this lower point of view where the parking lot is obscured by the vegetation growing on the fence.

So I tilted the camera upward.

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The resulting photo looks like this.

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Many photographers would deliver an image like the one above and many clients would be satisfied with it. To an architectural eye, however, it looks like the building is falling backward. The wide angle lens and the close location to the building make the perspective distortion much more apparent.

Before I show you what the Shift function can do, I wanted to show you what the post-processing correction tools in Lightroom 5 can do with this image.

First – Upright set to “Auto”

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It only made a slight improvement.

I tried using “Full” but I think the texture of the building materials threw it off. The photo was worthless.

Here is the shot using “Vertical”

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The vertical lines are correct, but the usable image is reduced due to the extreme correction that needed to be applied. After cropping the empty pixels, here is the final result.

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Based on the result above I think it would be possible to use a wider lens, tilt the camera upward and then use post-processing perspective correction to achieve a decent result. I’ll try that on my next shoot and post the results.

Shifting the Lens

The camera was returned to level and I shifted the lens upward about 10mm. The video at the bottom of this page shows the shift taking place as seen through the viewfinder.

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Here is the image that resulted:

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The verticals are straight and the entire building can be seen. After a few small adjustments and a slight move I captured the final image:

Architectural photography with Tilt Shift Lens

It’s probably a bit too straight and shot too close. For close shots like this I sometimes tilt the camera up slightly just to add some natural looking angles to the image.

Compare the regular and shifted images here:

  • Before-Perspective Control
    After-Perspective Control
    Before Perspective Control After

The entire process can be seen in the video below:

By | 2014-03-17T14:38:06+00:00 March 5th, 2014|Categories: Architecture, Exterior, Photography Tips|