Architectural Photography: Tilt-Shift

I’ll admit it. How shall I say it? I’m obsessed with the notion that perspective must be accurately rendered in architectural photography.

For years I watched the architectural magazines featuring the work of my heroes: Balthazar Korab, Ezra Stoller, and others. They consistently produced beautiful architectural images with precisely rendered perspective - never a vertical out of true vertical, often with horizontals rendered purely horizontal, except by deliberate design in circumstances dictating a departure from the orthodox.

These “architects of photography” produced much of their work utilizing the architectural photographer’s tool of choice for managing perspective, the large format view camera - Sinar F-1 shown here.


Much of their work was shot in black & white, but that’s another story. I began using a view camera in 1972 - a 4" x 5" Kodak Masterview. That most certainly was the culprit behind my growing obsession with accurately rendered perspective - that and perhaps my early reading of Ansel Adams’ “Camera And Lens”.

Like many other professionals, I have come to shooting digitally using a DSLR almost exclusively. As I mentioned in a previous post, My Sinar F-1 has fallen mostly out of service, but certainly not out of favor. I’m now using Canon’s complete line of tilt-shift, perspective control lenses varying in focal length from super-wide (17mm TS-E) to moderate telephoto (90mm TS-E).

For DSLR users, these perspective control lenses pick up where the view camera left off, and do a remarkably good job of it, at that. They eliminate un-necessary foreground and capture the tops of buildings - in camera, otherwise not possible without compromising perspective, and without the pixel loss (digital “real estate”) that results from making corrections in software.

This exterior view of the 1st National Bank in Minneapolis, by Holabird, Root & Burgee with Thorshov & Cerny, illustrates that point: Un-necessary foreground is eliminated; the top of this tall building is captured in camera; and verticals in the image are uncompromised - all but impossible without a lens shift.


The following view illustrates an alternative where foreground is eliminated and horizontals are rendered as pure horizontals, parallel to the top and bottom of the frame. A lens shift - diagonally upwards, here - will achieve this, while offering options for the placement of the subject laterally from a single camera position. Korab and Stoller made many captures of this nature in their work.


The following interior view of the Guest House at St. John’s University by VJAA illustrates a vertical lens shift - in this case to accentuate the prominence of the line along the ceiling comprised by the linear light fixture.


Another equally compelling way of viewing this scene from the very same camera position is represented in the following image.


In this case, the lens shift is diagonally down and to the left, effectively eliminating the blank wall surface on the right, and opening up the view of the exterior wall with its strong repetition of structural elements on the left.

The following composite view of both captures - from the same camera position - illustrates the lens shifts which are made without altering either the verticals or the horizontals in the scene. The upper rectangle represents the vertical lens shift, and the lower rectangle represents the diagonally downward shift left.


This is all made possible optically by a very large “lens image circle”, within which one has almost infinite choices for the “placement” of the scene. I for one am convinced that this lens technology makes the critical difference in architectural image-making.

For more on Architectural Photographer Balthazar Korab, see:

For more on Architectural Photographer Ezra Stoller, See:

My Website can be found here:


Now read this

Architectural Photography: Panorama - The Wide View

On occasion the panorama is useful way of describing the contextual setting of a building or site, whether in an urban or natural landscape. In addition, I have found that a number of architects and designers simply like the look of an... Continue →