Food Photography

Using a Tilt-Shift Lens in Food Photography

The tilt-shift may just be a food photographer’s lens of choice. Why? Because using a tilt-shift lens in food photography can allow you to precisely control the plane of focus like no other lens can.

I have been growing my lens collection (obviously, because that is what photographers do) for a couple of years now, with the most recent addition for food photography being the Nikon 105mm 2.8 Micro. A tilt shift was next on my list (mainly the Nikon 85mm 2.8 Micro t/s), but as it does cost a small fortune I need to land a few more commercial jobs before I can put my pennies towards one.

Last month I was approached to for a potential commercial advertising job and had to put in a submission that matched the brief. Matt and I went over the brief and determined that a tilt shift lens was what I needed to shoot with to get the mix of depth of field and focus required. (Insert much excitement here).

I’d never shot with a tilt-shift before but as it was on my list this was the kick in the bum I needed to rent one for the day. Interestingly enough it is harder to rent a Nikon tilt-shift than a Canon tilt-shift. Having to get my hands on one in short notice, I had to go with the Canon TS-E 90mm f2.8. Now most of you know me and know that I shoot Nikon, so I also had to get my hands on a Canon body as well! (As a side note; it’s great to be able to shoot between brands and beyond as you never know when you’ll need that in your skill set. I know photographers are very attached to their cameras and feel they are an extension of themselves, but I’ve been caught in situations where lighting gear didn’t have the latest firmware and I needed to shoot with another make of camera on the spot. If you’re a control freak like me, this can be stressful to say the least. Once you’ve done it a few times it take the pressure off. Getting some practise before your on set just makes sense).

I’ve read all about tilt-shifts, seen the images they produce and their functionality, but even this didn’t prepare me for how magic shooting with this lens is.

Using a Tilt-Shift Lens in Food Photography | Improve your food photography images by using a Tilt Shift Lens. Perfect for foodie photographers looking for new ways to compose their images. You can even rent one. Click to get inspired.

What is a Tilt-Shift Lens?

Tilt-shift is a lens that encompasses two unique movements, being a tilt movement and a shift movement. This allows you to control the plane of focus and control the convergence of parallel lines.

TILT – the tilt function is used to change the orientation of the plane of focus. In a regular lens, the plane of focus is parallel to the sensor in the camera. When you focus on something, everything at that distance will also be in focus. When you tilt a lens, the plane of focus is no longer parallel to the sensor. This creates an ‘angled’ plane of focus. Now when you focus on something, everything at that angle will be in focus.

Take a look at the elements in the photos below like the knife, glass and dishes. As the plane of focus is changed or tilted, you can see the focus change on these elements.

Using a Tilt-Shift Lens in Food Photography | Improve your food photography images by using a Tilt Shift Lens. Perfect for foodie photographers looking for new ways to compose their images. You can even rent one. Click to get inspired.

1/100, 5.6, ISO 800

Using a Tilt-Shift Lens in Food Photography | Improve your food photography images by using a Tilt Shift Lens. Perfect for foodie photographers looking for new ways to compose their images. You can even rent one. Click to get inspired.

1/100, 5.6, ISO 800

Using a Tilt-Shift Lens in Food Photography | Improve your food photography images by using a Tilt Shift Lens. Perfect for foodie photographers looking for new ways to compose their images. You can even rent one. Click to get inspired.

1/100, 5.6, ISO 800

SHIFT – the shift function is used to adjust the position of the subject within the image without moving the camera. This means that you can still get the angle you think works best for the shot, and capture things otherwise outside of the frame without moving the camera by simply shifting the lens up/down or side/side. It also allows you to control or correct converging lines, so that parallel lines in the field remain parallel in the image.

Now take a look at the same elements in the photos below, where both the tilt function and the shift function have been used. Can you see the plane of focus change?

Check out this little clip to see a Tilt-shift lens in action. (Although not food photography, it helps to understand converging lines if you were like waaa?).

Using a Tilt-Shift Lens in Food Photography | Improve your food photography images by using a Tilt Shift Lens. Perfect for foodie photographers looking for new ways to compose their images. You can even rent one. Click to get inspired.

1/125, 3.5, ISO 500

Using a Tilt-Shift Lens in Food Photography | Improve your food photography images by using a Tilt Shift Lens. Perfect for foodie photographers looking for new ways to compose their images. You can even rent one. Click to get inspired.

1/125, 3.5, ISO 500

Using a Tilt-Shift Lens in Food Photography | Improve your food photography images by using a Tilt Shift Lens. Perfect for foodie photographers looking for new ways to compose their images. You can even rent one. Click to get inspired.

1/125, 3.5, ISO 500

Using a Tilt-Shift Lens in Food Photography

If that didn’t leave you totally confused, I’m sure you’re eager to know how a lens like this would improve your food photography.

A number of commercial and professional food photographers use this lens, with a fellow advertising food photographer sharing with me on Instagram that he almost exclusively shoots commercial jobs with his tilt-shift. There are two main reasons for using this lens for food photography, (and no surprisingly there is one for the tilt function and for the shift function).

Mix of focus/blur control. You can selectively control the plane of focus, allowing the dish at the front of the image to be super in focus, whilst the background story is superbly out of focus.

Angle/subject position control. You can shoot a dish in its most flattering angle, and control how much of the story/props around the frame are included without changing the camera angle, distance or the subject placement. This is really powerful for shooting cover or product/packaging images.

Using a Tilt-Shift Lens in Food Photography | Improve your food photography images by using a Tilt Shift Lens. Perfect for foodie photographers looking for new ways to compose their images. You can even rent one. Click to get inspired.

What shooting with a tilt-shift lens opened up for me.

Have you ever admired a photo and tried to replicate it’s technical aspects only to find that you failed miserably? Well, there are a lot of images that I am now seeing were potentially shot with a tilt-shift lens in food photography, and that’s why I wasn’t able to replicate it’s aspects.

I ‘read’ a lot of photos and some of my favourite images I am starting to see must have been shot with a tilt-shift lens. I guess I can’t say for certain without asking the photographer, but images like this, this and this are now possible with a tilt-shift lens. Allowing me to capture that delicious combo of super in focus front dish and blurry everything else that differs visually from my 105mm Micro.

Whilst the tilt function is pretty rad, it was the shift that really caught my eye. The struggle between getting the ‘correct’ or most flattering angle of a dish and being able to capture the subjects around it is real. I find this especially when I am shooting images for potential cover shots, packaging or when text is to be applied. I can now see the power and freedom of capturing the angle I want whilst being able to play around with negative space or passive space for cover images, simply by adjusting the shift function up/down or side/side.

The lens cost me less than $50 for the day to rent, and the possibilities it opened up to how I can shoot and compose shots was a real eye opener and something I believe you have to experience for yourself to understand it’s a tilt-shift’s power in food photography.

 

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31 Comments

  • Reply Jo February 11, 2016 at 6:51 pm

    Awesome post Rach thanks so much for sharing!! I’m slowly getting my head around how a tilt shift works and this helped SO much. xx

    • Reply Rachel February 16, 2016 at 1:19 pm

      Perfect! Yes, writing down what tilt v shift meant really helped me. I had to run it over with Matt a few times to make sure I had it down pat.

  • Reply Karene' February 11, 2016 at 7:08 pm

    I did one assignment on an old tilt-shift sheet film camera when I was studying and had totally forgotten the magic you can create! Wow. It opens a whole new world of possibilities, doesn’t it? Oh, dear, I think I might just have to add another “must-buy” to my list of things to save up for. Beautiful deep tones in these shots, by the way. Good luck for your shoot!

    • Reply Rachel February 16, 2016 at 1:20 pm

      I feel the same way! I love that you had a go on an old film camera that is wicked. I feel like I just touched the tip of the iceberg so definitely want to shoot some more with this lens.

  • Reply Aysegul February 11, 2016 at 11:34 pm

    A very informative post. I have been procrastinating to rent one and play with it. But I guess after reading this I am so encouraged that I may do it sooner than later.
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge Rachel!

    • Reply Rachel February 16, 2016 at 1:22 pm

      That’s is so great. I just kept putting this off too and time really does get away from you. Maybe you can combine this with some of the awesome styling you would have learned at the workshop you went to recently, (which by the way, I’d love to hear about!).

  • Reply Louise | Cygnet Kitchen February 12, 2016 at 8:03 am

    I am SO glad I found your blog (via Bea’s Cookbook). Your photography is just beautiful! This is a great article, another lens to save up for! I just wondered as a Canon (5D Mkiii) user how did you find using a Canon compared to your Nikon.

    • Reply Rachel February 16, 2016 at 1:34 pm

      Hey Louise! Lovely to meet you. Thanks for stopping by. Isn’t Bea great. I am so lucky to have her as a fellow photographer.
      Yes the good old Canon v Nikon conversation. Like many photographers, I there are things about both that I like and it would be amazing to take the best features of both and combine them into one body! (One can dream right?). Overall I personally don’t think it matters. I like where the buttons are placed on my Nikon, but that is such a small thing to consider as new makes/models will often move buttons so you can’t rely on that. My Nikon currently doesn’t let me use Live View whilst tethering, which the Canon does. Really when the deciding factor for me when I chose a camera was how it felt in my hand. Being a petite person with smallish hands, the Nikon just felt more like an extension of me and fit almost perfectly in the grip of my hand. So I went with that. I don’t think I’d switch brands, simply because I wouldn’t see a return in investment. I’d be better investing in using/learning about medium format brands. I think they are both great cameras and when you’re a professional it comes down to knowing both how to use them and how to manipulate your surroundings and settings to create something amazing!

  • Reply Victor February 12, 2016 at 12:36 pm

    Awesome post. I understand why I was unable to recreate some shots now. Thanks for the explanation. I surprisingly understood 😊

    • Reply Rachel February 16, 2016 at 1:38 pm

      Well great! I know these concepts can be like ‘wha’? It’s so amazing what this lens can open up. I hope you can now recreate some of those techniques you’ve been looking for. Please do share!

  • Reply Pang February 15, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    There are reasons I have admired & followed you, Rachel, and here it is again, another reason to be your biggest fan!! Thank you SO MUCH for such a wonderful post. It is thorough and fun; this post makes me want to run out & rent one immediately. I am gonna have to wait until I fly home though.
    Thank you .. Thank you .. Thank you 🙂
    xoxo

    • Reply Rachel February 16, 2016 at 1:43 pm

      Pang you’d love this! I can see you really creating something amazing with this lens, especially in your beverage photography (which you’ve been doing really well in recently btw!). As always, your kind words make this all worth while! Stay well my friend.

  • Reply Sarah and Laura @ Wandercooks February 15, 2016 at 9:09 pm

    Incredible. The tilt shift is fascinating to read about, and now you have me intrigued to do further research. Loved the example images, it’s amazing what you can achieve with just a little focus adjustment. Thanks x

    • Reply Rachel February 16, 2016 at 1:46 pm

      So fascinating and even more in real life when you can see it right in front of your eye. If you rent one, I’d love to know what you think!

      • Reply Sarah and Laura @ Wandercooks February 17, 2016 at 11:42 pm

        Yes, definitely. OR if I meet my photography goals by the end of the year + save my pennies…maybe that could be my reward. After reading more info, it really does sound amazing and there isn’t a lot online about using it with food. So thanks for sharing what you know.

  • Reply Sunday Swoon - Fork Knife Swoon February 22, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    […] using a tilt-shift lens in food photography. Now I desperately want to rent […]

  • Reply Olaiya March 23, 2016 at 9:07 am

    This post blew my mind. Now understanding how to get some of the elusive focus I couldn’t make happen with my current lenses. Will definitely be renting a tilt-shift to see if I need to add one to my collection. Also, so glad to have discovered your blog. Adding it to my Feedly now. Thanks for a great post!

    • Reply Rachel March 31, 2016 at 10:20 am

      Great Olaiya, that is what I want to hear. I hope you get a chance to rent one, cause you won’t grasp its full capacity until you test it out in the flesh. Let me know if you do!

      • Reply Linda April 16, 2016 at 1:34 am

        Your posting really stgearhtined me out. Thanks!

  • Reply Fran Flynn April 11, 2016 at 4:08 pm

    Hi Rachel, I wonder if you found the tilt-shift helpful when vertical lines in an image tend to curve? Does it give you some control to straighten them up again? I’m a food photographer also and this kind of lens is on my wishlist also – and it would be great if it could overcome this issue also… Thank you, Fran

    • Reply Rachel April 12, 2016 at 10:46 am

      Hey Fran, great question! Do you have an example of these vertical lines and when they aren’t co-operating? My pet hate is glassware that tends to look like they are falling over at the edge of the frame, but that’s not a tilt-shift issue.

      There is an example of vertical lines of buildings curving and how the shift function corrects them back to being straight. Check it out here: Tilt Shift Introduction – Photography Concentrate. Is that what you were referring to?

      • Reply Fran Flynn April 12, 2016 at 2:57 pm

        Hi Rachel, that’s it exactly! The glassware falling off the frame issue – I was hoping tilt-shift might be able to help with that, since it seems to be a problem created by the spherical nature of the lens… and I knew that tilt-shift can help the distortion in the case of buildings. I’d love to get one just for the focusing capabilities, but I was hoping it might be the miracle answer for this issue also. Have you found any other way to address it? Thanks a million, Fran

        • Reply Rachel April 21, 2016 at 9:07 pm

          Hey Fran, yes this is a different issue and I do know how to solve it! I was actually thinking before you mentioned this that I should do a post on this! Too much explaining for the comments, but feel free to email me to chat about it!

  • Reply Sunday Swoon no. 8 - Fork Knife Swoon May 16, 2016 at 5:09 am

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  • Reply Marco September 28, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    Great post, love the 90mm Marco too. So an “ordinary” 105mm macro is redundant for this type of work?

    • Reply Rachel October 3, 2016 at 9:46 am

      Thanks Marco! I wouldn’t say the 105mm is redundant, it just doesn’t have the same capacity as a tilt-shift (which is a really unique feature), so the composition will always be different. I think the 105mm and the 90mm tilt-shift produce different results so one will not necessarily get you the look you’re after. If you’re not shooting for advertising or a book, then it’s probably overkill to get a tilt-shift kinda shot. Seeing is believing so if you are able to rent one for an afternoon, then you can make up your mind for yourself and what you’re trying to achieve! 🙂

  • Reply Heidi November 7, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    I am beyond grateful to have found your website, Rachel 🙂
    Thank you so much for opening my eyes to the tilt shift; Until now, I thought it was an instagram thing LOL.

    I’m starting to piece together so much about good food photography or ‘phoodography’ as I call it. Your posts are really helping in my journey. AND I think you just gave Nikon my business…

    So many thanks!

    • Reply Rachel November 8, 2016 at 8:26 am

      Hey Heidi! Lovely to meet you. Yes the tilt-shift. This effects of this lens were taken and put into the filter of IG, which many people will have learned from that platform first. Glad to hear that you want to be a Nikon girl! haha. Enjoy.

  • Reply jean pierre (pete) guaron July 5, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    Sigh – the Canon TS is more versatile, but my cams are Niks. Which means if I use one of these lenses, I can EITHER shift (up or down – or from side to side) OR tilt. But if I want to do both, in the same plane (ie both on the vertical plane, or both on the horizontal plane), I can’t – because the Nikon TS’s do one function at right angles to the other one.

    Of course you can DO both, at the same time – but not on the same plane. And I can’t figure why you’d ever want to do one on one plane and the other at right angles to it, on the other plane. Surely you’d want them both travelling in the same direction?

    • Reply Rachel July 6, 2017 at 4:41 pm

      Totally Pete! It’s good to have full functionality with your vision.

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