Portraits with a tilt-shift lens? YEAH. I’ve never done it and I wanted to, so I rented the lens!

If you aren’t familiar with a Tilt-Shift lens, then you’re probably got a somewhat confused face going on as you read this. It is a special lens, mainly used for architectural photography, due to its ability to help correct perspective distortion and increase depth of field with the tilting action of the lens. Essentially the lens has a very precise bend in the middle that can be dialed in and angled.

But, one can use this tilting action to get just a nice slice or sliver of focus. These types of lenses create this specific kind of blur that is now highly mimicked in post processing applications and are now being integrated in many point and shoot cameras. Being a little bit of a bokeh and blur lover, I naturally thought that shooting portraits with this would be a rad experience!

Image courtesy of LensRentals.com

Image courtesy of LensRentals.com

About the Lens

It isn’t every day that I get a box from LensRentals.com, and it sure isn’t every day that I get to shoot portraits with a tilt-shift lens such as the Canon TS-E 45mm F/2.8 (or any tilt-shift lens as a matter of fact). The thought of shooting with it was super exciting and a little intimidating (maybe you wouldn’t be, but I was).

The the barrel isn’t exactly a normal barrel. It’s more like a stack of a cylinder and a square box that has a 4 of knobs on it– knobs that make magic happen, well… at least two of them. The other two knobs lock the lens in place. There’s also this little clip of a switch that makes it possible to rotate the lens, as the lens only tilts on one axis. The build quality is freakin sweet. It’s chunks of metal, with a smooth and tight focusing ring.

Albeit that the lens is manual focus, whatever the lens is focused on is tack, needle, genius, cheddar and musical note sharp! Does it sing? Well it might as well, because once you nail that focus, you’ll want to harmonize with it all day. Of course, the challenge is actually getting what you want in focus. Being handheld and shooting portraits with an already shallow depth of field really amplifies the challenge. But, I just have to say, “WOW,” shooting wide open at F/2.8 is splendid! It’s not even an L-Series lens, but it sure feels like it.

Being paired up with the 5D Mark III created a pretty good balance of weight distribution as well as easy access to all the knobs. I do have to say that after you make a tilt movement, it is a little hard to verify that you have nailed the focus in the viewfinder under lower lighting situations. I did try using live-view for a little bit, but didn’t fully enjoy that experience either. It did let you see the effects of the blur on the fly, which is nice though.

The Images

Note: None of these images were blurred in post-processing.

So Day 1 with this lens was spent outside with a friend’s cute little sister, Kellie. The original location that I chose to shoot at was compromised, so I settled in open shade with just a wall– (exciting I know… blaaah). I had to make do with the situation that I had, but nevertheless, got a couple pictures I liked. I shot at f/2.8 to show the effect of the blur–a lot of my images were out of focus, so if you’re going to try this, be patient!!

  1. The first picture was my first attempt at using the lens. I rotated the lens so I could angle the lens either to the right or the left and had it set at full tilt. You can see that her hand is blurry, on the right side of the frame, but the center is decently sharp, at least on her left eyeball. This isn’t exactly my favorite use, but then again, I didn’t try much with it.
  2. The second picture is what you’d normally see in post process. This was achieved just by tilting the lens straight up or down, in this case down. I think this could be a lot more useful in the original area that I would’ve loved to shoot, it was wide and had a lot of detail and color everywhere.
  3. The last picture is the same thing horizontal tilt, just that my camera is in the vertical position and I rotated the lens to match it up. Definitely able to see the effect of this pretty well. I think this was my favorite picture.

Day 2 was a bit more my style. It was a random and fun shoot as I met up with a friend, Annie, for a lunch break at a coffee shop. There was a door right behind me so I had some of my favorite light flooding in. I figured that I could be a little less reserved and try different angles and experiment with the different kind variances of tilts! The range of blur that I tried on Annie can be seen pretty well with these pictures. It’s pretty easy to achieve a point focus with this lens!

Final Thoughts

This whole experience was really fun! It was a different piece of equipment that definitely could add artistic value to your experience. It makes some really pretty images and can be used not only for architectural photography, but for portraits as well!

Just to reiterate, this lens is sharp! Colors are vivid and the lens carries a lot of good contrast.  It performed very well in natural lighting situations. I recommend shooting with this lens just for the experience! You can rent it from LensRentals.com, and this lens can be found here : Canon TS-E 45mm F/2.8.

Editor: Remember the code for 15% off — PHOTOFOCUS15

Images used in this article were shot by me, Mykii Liu. If you’re wanting to see more examples of my work, go to my portfolio or follow me on Instagram.

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Join the conversation! 17 Comments

  1. This site seems to be one big commercial for lensrental.com. Why was it even mentioned in the first paragraph?

    • We mention all our sponsors within context. Thanks to them we can provide all of this content free to you. If you’d prefer we switch to a subscription only model, we could do that. However, many people watch TV, read newspapers, etc. All of those contain ads. We try to provide tremendous value and great information. If our need to pay the writers and staff bothers you, I have no easy answer.

  2. […] Read the rest here: A Sliver of Focus – The Canon TS-E 45mm F/2.8 Tilt-Shift | Photofocus […]

  3. I liked the article; it gives me yet another means of honing my image taking skills and – if nothing else – a fun means of learning to use a tilt-shift lens more creatively. I certainly wouldn’t have thought of using it for portraits.

    As for the ads, product service plugs and the like, it’s whatever. I don’t find it excessive and definitely appreciate the content provided here. As the saying goes though: you can’t please everyone…

  4. Great article, Mykii! And love the shots!

  5. […] about shooting portraits with a tilt-shift lens? Sounds weird to you? Then check the article at Photofocus to see the creative possibilities that come with a tilt-shift lens. In the article the Canon TS-E […]


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About Mykii Liu

This portrait photographer is named "Mykii Liu". Yeah, that is a weird/crazy awesome spelling, isn't it? Well, that kind of goes with his personality. Liu is a technological geek that has drifted in and out of full-time portrait and wedding photography as well as the IT world. As a youth, he was raised with computers and exuded an inherit ability to explore and understand other bits of technology, which included a 35mm Canon FTb film camera that he was gifted. Fast forward 20 years, add a couple other cameras, computers, lights and lenses, then find Mykii Liu shoot for love as he explores the portrait world.


Gear, Photography, Portrait, Reviews


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