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How to Use Tilt Lenses to Improve Storytelling

  • 4 min read
black & white photography with tilt-shift lens

Lensbaby Edge 35 | ISO | 320 | 1/500 | Canon Mark II

A good photographer knows that a picture is worth a thousand words, and a single photograph has the capacity to transport the viewer into another world and evoke a variety of emotions based on the subject. That is exactly what our expert photographer, Liz Davenport, is trying to convey in this blog. Read how she creates a powerful story through a single image all while capturing the blurred beauty of raw emotions in the process.  

Storytelling is a powerful communication tool, and for the photographer who loves to use the lens to narrate.


black & white portrait with tilt-shift lens

Lensbaby Sweet 35 | ISO | 320 | 1/800 | Canon Mark II


The Tilt and Story Flow

The poems and prose that have stuck with me – the ones that impact my soul – are all works that utilize rhythm as a storytelling element. Of course, successful storytelling imagery is like that, too — but instead of hearing the rhythm in your head, you're feeling it in the beat of your heart or the catch of your breath.

You'll meet photographers – and you might be one of them – who prefer, for the sake of cohesion, to divide their work into homogeneous batches. So they'll display color photos next to color photos and black and whites next to black and whites. And let me be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that technique. There are a lot of advantages to that type of arrangement.

But I prefer the dance of dissimilar images, detailed crops, and pulled-back shots, nailing focus down to the pore and then using a tilt to capture the blurred beauty of pure emotion. I love how the imagery created with a tilt camera lens flows with pictures taken with standard glass. And forgive me for sounding so unconventional. It's almost as if one captures the seen, and the other captures the unseen.

Both provide facets to the story.


black & white tilt shift lens photography

Lensbaby Sweet 35  | ISO | 320 | 1/640 | Canon Mark II

Focus on the Story

Change the focal point, and you'll impact the story.

When you use a tilt camera lens and focus on the part of the image, invariably, the other part of the image falls out of focus. Because our eye naturally gravitates to the portion of the picture with greater emphasis, it assigns it more importance.

Let's consider the image below. While it's not the most captivating image, it illustrates my point perfectly. The effect of the tilt mars the woman's beauty. Her head and torso are pure emotion — almost as if someone scribbled a black marker over her face and chest. Instead, our focus is drawn to the journal and torn pages in the river. We can tell that she's impassioned by the use of blur, and we can see why she's feeling that way by the focus on the journal.


black & white photo with tilt-shift lens

Lensbaby Edge 35 | ISO | 320 | 1/500 | Canon Mark II

A natural follow-up to this image would either be a close-up of the journal (what could it possibly say, I wonder?) or a shot of the woman's face or hands.


tilt-shift lens photography

Lensbaby Edge 35 | ISO | 320 | 1/500 | Canon Mark II

"I want to talk about the importance of understanding light, how it changes during the day and how you can best use it to your advantage..."

The Mechanics of a Tilt Lens

Getting started with Lensbaby's tilt Composer Pro II is very easy, but the proper focus does take some practice to master. So please, don't get discouraged. It'll come.


  1. First, attach your tilt lens like you would standard glass.
  2. Adjust your camera settings before you start shooting.
  3. Tilt lens to one side (or up or down). The side that you tilt your lens towards is the side that will be able to achieve focus.
  4. Focus using the manual ring. (You can choose to focus through the viewfinder, but if you're shooting something stationary, you can also use your camera's Live View and zoom in to make sure you nail it).
  5. Take the shot.


The Edge optic creates a sharp slice of focus on the edge of your focal plane. When you tilt to the left, you'll be able to achieve focus on the far left manually. Likewise for the right, top and bottom. The part not in focus has a beautifully soft blur and bokeh.


Tips for the Sweet 35

The Sweet optic spotlights your subject in a sharp, round sweet spot center of your focal plane. When you tilt to the left, you'll be able to achieve focus on the middle left manually. Likewise for the right, top and bottom. The part not in focus has a super smooth blur and bokeh.


tilt-shift photography

Lensbaby Sweet 35 | ISO | 320 | 1/800 | Canon Mark II

The subject for this series, Bianca Alonzo, is a model and critical care nurse in the Kansas City area. Bianca's modeling experience includes editorial and creative photography, film, and fashion runway. To reach Bianca for shoots or to view her portfolio, visit Instagram at@bianca_models.



Want your shots featured by Lensbaby?⁠
Be bold and shoot extraordinary! Make sure to tag your photos on IG with #Lensbaby, #ShootExtraordinary, and let us know what gear you’re using. :camera_with_flash:


Liz Davenport

Liz Davenport of Sunshine and Shadows Photography is a fine art motherhood and portrait photographer from Kansas City, Mo. Her work is defined by heavy shadows and pockets of light, rich colors, emotional connection, and intentional blur.

Liz Davenport

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