Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you could see the finished image in your mind, but the camera just couldn’t deliver that vision? Whether it was because of depth of field, perspective, or distortion, a perspective control lens may be the solution.
Perspective control lenses are one of my secret weapons. They are tools that allow me to create pictures with ease that would be nearly impossible to create in any other way. They will always have a place in my camera bag, and they might deserve a place in yours too.
The ability to control the lens plane separately from the image plane used to be found almost exclusively on view cameras or specialized medium-format cameras like the Fuji 680III. But a surge of new perspective control lenses has brought view camera capabilities to DSLR cameras and the results speak for themselves.
In my photography, I’ve used perspective control or “tilt-shift” lenses for architecture, products, landscapes, and especially portraiture. In each case, the image couldn’t have been made without this specialized piece of glass.
In architecture, for example, perspective control lenses allow me to place the camera in a perfectly level position while I simply raise, lower, or shift the lens separately from the camera to include what I want in the frame. This maintains straight lines and avoids the appearance of the building tilting away from me—a distortion known as the “keystone effect.”
“An optic that has the ability to rise, fall, shift, or tilt has amazing value.”
When photographing products, cars, food, or anything that requires sharpness across the entire image, the perspective control lens allows adjustment to the depth of focus as well. By tilting the lens in the direction of the subject plane, more of the image will be in focus regardless of the f/stop that’s used. Using this same technique in reverse, I can also limit the plane of focus to emphasize certain parts of the image while deemphasizing others. An optic that has the ability to rise, fall, shift, or tilt has amazing value—even when photographing people.
For a portrait of an executive against a wall of glass, I needed to be sure that the window mullions remained absolutely square while at the same time positioning the subject where I wanted him in the frame. With a standard lens, the composition would have required an upward tilt of the camera which would have introduced distortion in the windows. Instead, I leveled the camera which left the windows perfectly square. Then, I simply raised the lens itself to include more of the windows and less of the floor.
For a portrait of pitching great Barry Zito for Sports Illustrated, I wanted to emphasize Zito’s eyes and reduce the focus in the rest of the frame. Using a perspective control lens, I composed the image to include what I wanted in the frame and then simply tilted the lens in the opposite direction of the image plane to significantly reduce the depth of focus in the image.
Perspective control lenses are generally available in ultra-wide, wide, normal, and telephoto and each one is useful in different situations. As a huge bonus, some perspective control lenses will even focus down to a few inches making them really useful for macro work as well.
Give a perspective control lens a try sometime. They can be a powerful tool for your camera bag—and for your pictures.
Joey Terrill is a Los Angeles-based photographer with clients that include American Express, Coca-Cola, Disney, Golf Digest, Major League Baseball, Red Bull, and Sports Illustrated. He teaches workshops and speaks at seminars including the Summit Series Workshops, WPPI, Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar, UPAA Symposium, World in Focus, and Nikon School.