The title of this article is only semi-exaggerated. For a few months, Canon has provided us with a long term loaner of the Canon EF 135mm f4 L lens. Additionally, we’ve reviewed a few other tilt-shift lenses here on the site. And what they’ve taught us is that it’s time for a massive change in how we do photography. There’s so much marketing around getting shot super quickly within a second. Those moments are wonderful and have their merit. However, that doesn’t devalue the concept behind a carefully set up photograph with lots of pre-production and careful work to make it truly shine.
The tilt shift lens is the antithesis of what so many photographers want these days. It’s got manual focus, it’s slow, and it’s not simple to use until you get the hang of it. These days, photographers are so enthused with the idea of pressing a button and having something happen for them. It’s why so many photographers like LEDs instead of strobe — because they simply lack the idea and creative vision associated with the magic that a strobe can bring to a set. It’s also why so many of us shoot in aperture priority or simply just shoot in continuous autofocus mode for a subject that isn’t moving. I mean, why do we need to shoot portraits of a subject that isn’t moving at 20 frame a second?
A tilt shift lens purposely slows you down in every single aspect in the same way that large format and medium format analog cameras do. You need to plan ahead and think about things beforehand. This isn’t about doing it all in post-production afterward. It’s all about getting it right in-camera and being meditative throughout the process as it’s happening.
Let me walk you through it:
- You need to frame your subject so it’s it’s pretty much in the center.
- Then you need to adjust your lighting and camera settings manually.
- When this is done, manually focus the lens on what you want to be sharp
- After this, you choose the different tilt of the scene.
- Finally, you shift the focus plane so that the point that you want in focus is sharp, but so too are other parts.
In this process, you might discover something that you like and are having fun with. And after a while, you’ll be able to understand what’s possible with the lens.
I’ve been using the Canon EF 135mm f4 L lens for months now in my studio, shooting product photos as they come in. Each time I use it, I start to change up my creative vision just a bit. Sometimes, the focus plane has changed and you might not even realize that it’s different from what a normal camera lens can do. At other times, I come back with the images to my computer to see product images that I’m truly proud of because I didn’t just simply set up a scene, point a camera, and click the shutter. Instead, I was much more involved and active in the process on a completely different level.
This, ultimately, I feel is what more photographers need to do. We need to be more involved at every single aspect and be much more intentional with the work that we do. We’ve come to rely on technology too much — but we should instead rely on our creative vision and have the tools to aid us in achieving it.