Like many others, I have been a great fan of Ryan Brenizer since a long time. Though I have never tried the Brenizer method of panaromic portraits in my professional photography assignments, I still have a lot of fun experimenting with techniques like this.

This morning however, while reading feeds, I was awestruck by this amazing image from him: enter image description here

So awestruck, that I'm writing this question right from my iPad. I took the screenshot from the flipboard article and cropped it to get the image.

I searched quite a lot but didn't find any in-depth article or tutorial covering taking portraits using a tilt shift lens. Assuming that I'm right that this has been taken with a tilt-shift, my question is more like a curiosity. Mainly two:

  1. Has anyone done or tried similar kind of thing? If yes, I would love to hear the story and the science behind.
  2. Apart from the lens, is it possible to achieve this in post processing?
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also found a video covering tilt-shift lens for video: vimeo.com/13533155 \$\endgroup\$
    – Rish
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 2:04

3 Answers 3


You don't actually need a tilt-shift lens to do this. This particular image was taken with a standard lens (50mm f1.2 according to the filename of the image on Ryan's website) rather than with a tilt-shift.

The extreme bokeh effect here was achieved by using a freelensing technique, where the lens is detached from the camera body and held at a tilted angle in front of the sensor.

Ryan has written a freelensing tutorial on the B&H website, which features this particular image as an example.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Isn't that pretty much what tilt does in a tilt-shift lens? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 15:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @damnedtruths - Mostly, but as noted in the tutorial, the freelensing technique also allows for some additional things like light leakage and that can create some of the low-fi looks of the toy cameras at the same time. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joanne C
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 15:51

That particular shot was done with a fairly extreme forward tilt (the front of the lens tilted down, probably close to or at the limit of the lens), and the lens was focused manually on the subject's eyes. That puts the plane of sharp focus well in front of the subject throughout most of the frame, making a pretty bokeh mess of what appears to be a sequinned dress.

I'm afraid there's not much to it apart from practice, practice, practice and more practice. The Scheimpflug principle upon which the effect hangs is very easy to understand. The hard part is getting what you want in focus in focus with a manual focus lens, in particular doing it fast enough to incorporate it into your wedding repertoire.

Yes, there are post-processing methods of doing something similar (but not identical), including the Alien Skin Bokeh and Topaz Lens Effects plugins (usable with most 8BF plugin-compatible image editors), along with native methods in recent versions of Photoshop (try the various filters in the Filter->Blur menu). The bokeh might not be quite what you'd like (it's fake, after all), and you may need to get fancy with a gradient map, but if a tilt lens (it doesn't need to shift; a LensBaby will do something similar) is out of the question and you have the tools handy or available cheaper, then it's worth a shot.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, I found it very difficult to execute quickly enough when on assignment. If I was in a studio(as the example was probably shot) and had all the time in the world - it would be one thing. But it's pretty hard to get great results quickly! \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 15:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @dpollitt - believe it or not, Brenizer does all of this stuff on the fly at weddings. And even if this particular shot wasn't done with a TS (freelensing is essentially the same principle) he uses one regularly. He's well-enough practiced to get his "ordinary amazing" stuff in the bag quickly, and that gives him a little time to take risks without risking the wedding (with informed consent). But manual focus on a full-frame isn't that hard (unless you're judging the result by the pixels instead of the picture). \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 20:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Haven't come across anyone else who does this with a manual focus tilt shift at the weddings. Insane amount of practice is what it should've taken. Definitely going to rent a tilt-shift and try out sometime. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rish
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 20:43
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Rish - Check out Ryan's B&H seminar, An Affair to Remember. "Insane amount of practice" pretty much sums it up. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 21:45

I wrote a blog post at this very site on this topic: Tilt-Shift Lenses for Portrait Photography

Here are some quotes from that post:

The technique that I actually use to take tilt-shift portraits is actually very simple, considering the amount of controls found on a tilt-shift lens. I tilt my lens to the maximum tilt of either +/-8.5° and stop down to my maximum aperture of f/3.5. Depending on my subjects, I also may alter the orientation of the tilt portion of the lens from the standard to perpendicular.

Overall, shooting portraits on a tilt-shift lens can be rewarding due to the amount of creativity and depth of field control. It is very challenging especially when you have moving subjects(human), many controls to modify on the lens, and are required to shoot without a tripod.

enter image description here

  • \$\begingroup\$ And this was one of the first blog posts I read in my initial searches on the topic. Well written :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Rish
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 20:42

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.