The Power of Tilt and Shift

Do you dream of achieving the ultimate depth of field that masters such as Ansel Adams and Edward Weston displayed in their images? Paul Gallagher explains the outstanding qualities of tilt lenses.

When I first got into photography I quickly became obsessed with black and white images from past masters such as Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. I loved the overwhelming quality, the tonal range in their images and the high detail and definition. Best of all I loved the way they could achieve ultimate depth of field, which stretched from immediately in front of the camera right over to the horizon, and it was something that I dreamed of emulating. This effect was a result of these photographers using large format cameras and employing camera movements, in particular, tilt.

As a young photographer I rapidly progressed from 35mm film to medium format and quickly onto large format, which I used solely for over 25 years. The move to large format and the use of camera movements was brought about by me hitting a stumbling block. I headed up to Scotland with my medium format cameras that had no movements such as tilt and shift. As many a landscape photographer would say, “I was in the right location on a remote Scottish beach and the light was truly perfect”. I set up the camera on the tripod, then stopped the lens down to f/32 for full depth of field. After I had processed the films I began seeking this individual frame, as it was this one I desperately wanted to see. The results left me very disappointed. Although I had stopped the lens right down, this was not enough and the foreground of the frame was soft. It was from that moment onwards that I used tilt in virtually all of my landscape photography!

As digital cameras got better I was keen to leave the bulk and weight of large format kit at home and I began to shoot with Nikon DSLR’s. When I began to inspect the image files I was faced with the same issue that I was that day on the beach in Scotland. Although it was a pleasure working digitally, the depth of field quickly became a disappointment for me and I invested in the Nikon 24mm PC-E Lens – I have...

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About Author


Paul Gallagher has been a professional landscape photographer for over 30 years and is also regarded as a Master Printer dedicating his photography to Northern England, the Scottish Highlands and further afield around the world.

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