Palouse and Tilt-Shift Fun

It has been a busy summer for photography and work (non-photography-related job).  I have fallen behind terribly and aim to get caught up with a few posts before Thanksgiving.  I have two ready to go and will start off with this one.

Last year I started offering photo tours of the Palouse.  Though I haven’t lived in the area that long, I’ve definitely put in the time to learn the back roads, of which I’ve counted over 400 in Whitman County alone.  Though the client’s photographic productivity and enjoyment of the area is foremost, I also take my gear to occasionally capture a few frames.  This has allowed me to have fun using just one lens or trying a different lens at familiar spots. I own the 24 tilt-shift and have borrowed the 90 tilt-shift (both Canon). My use of these lenses have been for DOF, perspective correction, and panoramic stitching.  The 90mm lens did not get as much use and I had more of a learning curve so satisfactory shots were harder to come by; one will be shared in the next post.

The first image was taken with the 24mm. Both a downward tilt and downward shift were used along with a 2-stop reverse GND for the sky.  I also shifted upwards to capture enough of the sky; the filter had to be readjusted upon shifting so the gradation line was kept uniform at the horizon.

Palouse River Canyon Morning, August 2014

The second image was also taken with the 24mm. Again, both tilt and shift downward were used for DOF and perspective, respectively.

Old Barn and Clouds, Summer Morning

This image is from a favorite spot of mine. I really like the bowl created by the landscape. The 24mm coverage just barely gets the sweep of the field. I used shifting to correct perspective and capture a large amount of sky (one shot shifted down and one shot shifted up). I do not believe I tilted for DOF since the foreground distance was relatively far from the lens.

Wheat Bowl

Aneroid Lake, Eagle Cap Wilderness

Fourth of July weekend was spent at Aneroid Lake in the Eagle Cap Wilderness of Oregon.  Though I did not take a large amount of pictures, my goal was to use the 24mm TSE lens to capture some different views of the lake.  The two shots shared here are each composites of two images.

The first image was taken in the evening with the sun setting behind the mountain ridge in the frame.  I wanted to include the clear water of the lake and the rocks below.  I used a circular polarizer to mitigate the reflection on the lake.  I do not believe tilt was involved since the foreground was not very close to the lens.  I had forgotten my bubble level so had to eyeball the lake’s horizon.  Each image was shifted up/down and overlaps over 50% resulting in a nice 4×5 aspect ratio image.

Another aspect of this image I want to point out is the use of a circular polarizer.  Too often I read online people dismissing the need of a circular polarizer on a wide angle lens.  Yes, the effect it could have would not deepen the blues within a sky evenly.  However, I most enjoy the reflection-cutting ability polarizers have on water.  I could not see the bottom of the lake with my own eyes as well as the camera-lens-polarizer combination could.  For me, a polarizer on a wide angle lens makes complete sense when shooting water (or wet objects).

Aneroid Lake Evening

The second photo was taken in the morning.  Dawn light was nice but I have no regrets missing the light by a few minutes.  Just a few clouds; I’m ok with the result I got anyway.  This shot required tilting to maximize DOF.  I even took three different exposures with a plan of an HDR panoramic stitch.  However, the detail in the “normally” exposed image of the three files had enough detail to rescue the highlight data.  Again, this is two photos with 50%+ overlaps resulting in a nice 4×5 aspect rato.  Using the tilt-shift at the lake was a fun experience.

Aneroid lake Dawn

One last image to prove I explored beyond the lake.  This area sits above Aneroid Lake along the Tenderfoot Pass trail.

Along the Tenderfoot Pass Trail

The Palouse with a 90mm tilt-shift lens

For some time now I’ve been interested in seeing how the 90mm tilt-shift would work in the Palouse.  The lens is highly regarded but I wondered how appropriate the reach would be since I’m usually at the long end of my 70-200 and use the 400mm frequently.  I knew I would have to be relatively close to my subject given the focal length and my typical photography approach.

On my initial test trip, I quickly found the 90mm to be shorter than expected.  My anticipation was to use the tilt and shift functions in tandem: tilting for depth of field, and shifting horizontally for three separate shots, all done while in portrait orientation.  Fortunately I found a worthy subject after some driving.  The weather wasn’t the best, being mostly cloudy but the green spring fields presented nicely.  As with the 24 TSE, I used 10x live view to get the proper tilt (about -2mm).

Cloudy Spring Day

I also stopped along Union Flat Creek on the drive back home to capture this scene.  No, tilting or shifting, just one frame manually focused with 10x live view.

Union Flat Creek Spring

The next day the weather did not improve but I went out for more testing.  I was warming up to the lens after initially feeling its focal length to be too short.  I had in mind to use the 1.4x extender but on the few stops I made it was either too tight or too wide.  Nonetheless my first stop in a new locale presented me with a windmill.  This area had potential after I followed the road on Google Earth and saw the canyon to the east it overlooked.  The windmill was a pleasant surprise.  Though the early morning sky was bland, I set up as before: portrait orientation, 10x live view for focusing, three shots with two shifted for a “pano.”  It’s not necessarily a panorama in the true sense.  The resulting photo is cropped at a 4×5 aspect ratio.  The aspect ratio and increased resolution is what I find  most appealing about shifting with these lenses.  Now the 90mm tilt-shift is on my list!  (And its rumored that Canon may be updating this year).

Windmill and Canyon

Salmon River and Canon 24mm TS-E

This past winter I finally took the step of purchasing my first tilt-shift lens. I had become dissatisfied with my wide-angle lens (Zeiss 18mm) due to consistently soft corners. I’m sure this is something that one can expect in most super wide-angle lens, but I know the renowned Nikon 14-24 is superb as are many other lens. Nevertheless I reasoned the 24mm TS-E Mark II lens from Canon would give me similar coverage with the shifting capabilities. The tilt function would definitely help me avoid or mitigate diffraction while maintain infinite depth of field. The former function was easy to grasp. However, the tilt function is a continual learning process.

I originally decided to test the tilt function while driving on the Salmon River north of Riggins, Idaho. I felt confident in my results when viewing on the camera, but when viewed on my computer the results weren’t quite sharp. Not that the image wasn’t tack sharp at 200%, but the background was noticeably not sharp at ~50% zoom. Wanting to maximize the lens ability I set out to try more shots. I tested my acumen outside my apartment before travelling to Riggins the next day. I may not have had the ideal subject (a wheat field) but I tried shooting at f/11 and f/8 both shot with tilt. I assiduously used the LiveView at 10x magnification to set the manual focus. The results swayed me towards f/11, though still not quite at the optical sweet spot of the lens, this would yield better results than at f/16.

Sunrise wasn’t especially good along the river. This was my first sunrise shoot deep within the canyon. I expected some light upon the hills high above but that didn’t even show until about an hour after sunrise. It just so happened there was a relatively nearby wildfire whose smoke thwarted the suns rays that morning. Despite the light not cooperating I still had plenty of opportunities for photos. US Highway 95 abounds with turnouts as it follows the Salmon River from Riggins to White Bird. Even this late in the season rapids are still lively though the water level is much lower. Three different stops lead me to attempt using tilt and shift together. Shooting in portrait orientation, I set the shift from left to right which allowed me to tilt the lens downward to employ the Scheimpflug principle. (This is an optical principle involving the intersection of image, lens and film/sensor plane.) About 1.5 mm of tilt, shifting for three shots, shooting at f/8, and manually focusing at 10x with LiveView yielded these results. I also used a circular polarizer to help balance the reflection/glare upon the water.

Salmon River TS-E Pano

Aside from much time practicing with the tilt-shift lens, I also took a few other pictures. These were taken with my very trusty setup of 70-200 F/4 + 1.4x extender. The Lucile area along the Salmon is one of my favorites. A gigantic rock wall extends almost vertically up from the river by hundreds of feet. I still need to revisit this area and continue to capture images. I’m sure I’ll have plenty more opportunities.

Salmon River Layers

Canyon Wall at Lucile

Old Lucile