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Shifting Focus

TSE lenses can control focus on these kids

An Introduction to the TS-E 24mm and Portraiture

By: Andrea Barbier

June 01, 2018

The Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II is an unassuming lens for portraiture, and one I wouldn’t likely have considered until it was recommended to me, but how grateful I was! Traditionally used by architectural and landscape photographers, this specialty lens will reward your efforts by delivering a viewpoint unique to the tilt-shift series. With focal length options of 17mm, 24mm, 50mm, 90mm, and 135mm, there are applications for tilt-shift lenses in almost any type of portraiture!

I photograph my family almost every day. Aside from just documenting memories, it’s an engaging way that I try new techniques, learn the ins-and-outs of my equipment, practice storytelling, and work on refining my artistic perspective. This was where I began with the TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II.

A child, looking through a pan of glass.

TS-E 24mm shot at f/3.5, note the diagonal focus that keeps both his eye and ear sharp, possible with the tilt feature.


In this blog, we are going to focus our attention on tilting. For portraiture, the tilt-shift lens is all about alternative focusing methods. While this lens has many uses, it is ideal for two specific things involving portraiture – incredible selective focus, and infinite focus, even at low apertures. For beginners, the “tilt” element of this lens is the frontmost changeable mechanism (indicated with a “T”). Tilting enables you to alter your plane of focus to either match or deviate from the sensor; if you adjust the tilting element to be parallel with the sensor then you achieve extremely deep depth of field, and if you throw it out of sync with the sensor you achieve extremely narrow depth of field. You can fully rotate the tilting element of your lens so that you can tilt both horizontally and vertically.

Three pictures in sequence of a young boy and girl.

TS-E 24mm, all at f/3.5, changing the focus from one child to the other, and then to both children at once. This is possible by tilting the lens to align your subject with the camera's sensor.


Though this sounds like a complicated way of achieving a look that you can accomplish with any lens by changing the aperture, you will find that the resulting look is actually quite different. The tilt changes the plane of focus, while a standard lens is distance related focus. Imagine being able to draw a line across your photograph in any direction, and everything in that line from foreground to background will be in focus. This is what the lens is capable of! Additionally, closing down your aperture on a standard lens means reducing your light intake, while tilting the focal plane on this lens to achieve infinite focus can be done even at f/3.5.

A young boy playing with a water hose in the backyard.

TS-E 24mm shot at f/3.5, horizontal field of focus utilizing the tilt feature.


It is important to note that this lens is manual focus only, so the everyday task of trying to photograph moving children requires a bit of pre-planning. I find it helpful to set up an object they will be interacting with and pre-focus on it, instead of trying fruitlessly to manually focus while they are on the run. Having an older child or adult that can stay still with them is another good option! I primarily hand-hold when I’m using this lens because my little ones never stay in one place, and even so I find the clarity of this lens spectacular. If you do have a subject that is still, combining the use of a tripod with ability to check your close-focus in Live View will result in razor sharp images.

A young boy playing in the backyard while the young father watches.

TS-E 24mm shot at f/3.5, note the diagonal field of focus that keeps hand, face, and plant sharp, possible with the tilt feature.


The boy playing with the young father.

TS-E 24mm shot at f/3.5, with both foreground and background in focus.


With a bit of patience and practice you will find that the specific traits of these lenses make them an enticing tool for portrait making!