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Tilt Shift workflow adjustments for HDR photography

August 21, 2012

If you have not yet seen it, Darwin Wiggett and Samantha Chrysanthou have finally published their long awaited eBook on using Tilt-Shift lenses, The Tilt-Shift Lens Advantage. 

I had a chance to read the eBook and it is a great resource for anyone who owns or is considering owning a Tilt-Shift lens. It is a wonderfully detailed book with lots of great photos and explanations on all things tilted and shifted. I purchased my first Tit-Shift lens many years ago and was driven to purchase it after seeing the wonders Darwin was pulling off using one. They really are remarkable tools. I sure wish I had this eBook years ago when I was trying to learn how to use my tilt shift lenses. If you read the eBook you will understand how to use them very quick and be able to avoid the pains taking task of trial and error to establish your own understanding and workflow.

The eBook provides lots of examples and workflows. One of those workflows details how to take full advantage of the tilt feature to maximize the perceived depth of field or more precisely, how to match the plane of focus with the subject plane. The workflow is very good and very close to my own but if you use HDR in creating images, I would like to offer some amendments to the workflow that is presented by Darwin & Sam.

I find that first time TS users trying to set up for HDR bracketing stumble in the same area and I’ll explain what I do in those cases and hopefully you will find it useful. Starting on Page 34, Darwin and Sam outline 12 steps of their workflow for matching the focus plane by tilting. I’m not going to repeat the 12 steps here. You will have to purchase their eBook to find those. But when bracketing for HDR, there is typically no graduated filters used to even out the exposure. Therefore, you are presented with the challenge of trying to manually focus on two parts of the image where one is typically over exposed (i.e. mountain top or sky) and one is typically under exposed (i.e. close foreground).

As described in the eBook, you will want to note the correct exposure before titling or shifting the lens and will want to set that correct exposure using Manual Mode on your camera. For the HDR bracketing, this is the base EV 0 exposure. You need to remember this exposure.

The majority of the steps needed to match the focus panel to the subject plane involve switching back and forth between viewing a point in the foreground and a point in the background using Live View. As each point is viewed at 5x or 10x magnification, the focus and/or tilt is adjusted. This is fine when you can clearly see the foreground and background in Live View. But in most HDR applications, the EV 0 (no adjustment) exposure is going to have the foreground way under exposed and the background completely over exposed. It is not possible to manually focus on either the foreground or background using the EV 0 “correct exposure”.

Consider the two focus points shown in red in this EV 0 exposure below. In Live View, magnifying either of these points would present a problem for manually focusing.

Live View focus points in EV 0 exposure

My solution is to adjust the shutter speed temporarily while scrolling in Live View. But as mentioned, it is first very important to know and remember the correct shutter speed that was determined before the lens was tilted. When in Live View and scrolling towards the under exposed position of the image (i.e. foreground), I simultaneously lengthen the shutter speed (increase exposure time) such that I can see the area well enough to adjust the manual focus. Note that with the camera in Manual mode, I can adjust the shutter & aperture independent of one another – I’m only changing the shutter speed – the apature remains untouched

Lengthen shutter speed to view under exposed part of image

Similarly, while I scroll towards the over exposed position of the image (i.e. background), I simultaneously shorten my shutter speed as necessary so I can see the area well enough to adjust the tilt to bring the area into focus. This is then repeated as necessary.

Shorten shutter speed to view over exposed part of image

Once I have the focus and tilt set so that the plane of focus matches the subject plane, I return the shutter speed to the pre-tilt setting and expose the series of bracketed frames. You can think of this technique during focusing as pre-viewing your bracketed exposures where you might be viewing the foreground at EV +3 and the background at EV -3. After some practice, the adjustment of the shutter speed as you move the Live View point will become second nature.

Using this technique you can then be sure that the focus and tilt are correctly set to maximize the preserved depth of field in your HDR images.

The finished image is shown below. It used both the tilt and shift features of the Canon 24mm TS-E lens. Once the lens was tilted correctly and the first set of bracketed shots was taken, I then shifted the lens left and then right to take a second and third set of bracketed shots. The three sets of bracketed images were then processed in post, stitching first and then processed with HDR software.

Tilt Shift HDR image from Iceland

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 21, 2012 12:04 pm

    Really nice post Scott for those wanting to do HDR photography and use tilt! Thanks for saving us the write-up! Darwin

  2. August 21, 2012 6:07 pm

    Great one Scott! Very impressed with workflow you share.

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