Tokyo Tower in tilt shift using Hasselblad HTS

Tokyo Tilt Shift: shooting the city with a Hasselblad tilt-shift setup

I recently spent a week shooting Tokyo from various elevated vantage points with the Hasselblad H4D-40 and the HTS1.5 tilt-shift adaptor. Here are few of the results.

Some of this shooting is motivated by my doing the artwork for a friend’s new CD album, which has a track on it called ‘Dinkytown’. But, I wanted to get out with the HTS again anyway. It’s been a while since I shot it and I like it. It’s fun.

Ever since first laying my hands on a large-format camera in 1988, I got obsessed about the view-camera’s ability to render the world in a totally different way. I don’t shoot much film now but I still have a large-format camera kicking around the house. It’s still fin for me but, frankly, when I have a digital Hasselblad and easy access to Hassie gear and nick-nacks to borrow… I’m more interested in getting out and about with that than digging the 4×5 out of the cupboard.

One main compromise about the Hasselblad is, though, that it can’t do rear-plane movements: movements in tilt, shift or swing of the rear ‘film’ or sensor plane. The 4×5 can do this and rear-plane movements are when the fun really begins. But, photography and gear and life are all compromises. Going out and shooting 20 shots in a day with my H4D is faster, more satisfying and less bank-breaking than shooting 20 sheets of 4×5.

Every tilt-shift lens or adaptor for 35mm or medium format cameras has the compromise of giving you only two out of the three movements available to large format cameras with rear-plane movements. You have tilt and shift or, with the fact that the adaptor rotates, tilt and swing or shift and swing.

Pretty much all of the shots you’ll see here have been done with tilt and shift, not swing. For the miniature effect, which is what I was out to do, you don’t really get a lot out of using swing movements.

For a thorough explanation of why this technique renders the world looking like miniatures, models, toys… this is a fairly good link to go and visit. It’s the Wikipedia. It ain’t perfect but it’s a pretty good stab at explaining the whole thing.

As to how to best go out and capture Tokyo in this way, for me it starts with being high up but not too high up. Looking down, pointing the camera down, at a suitable angle is part of how you start to get the movements of the camera to conspire to get you the best miniature look.

Some of the places I shot were 40 or more floors high. Others were much less high. Typically, if you’re using a tilt-shift lens to correct converging verticals in architectural photography, you’d be shooting wide. Shift lenses come in various lengths from as wide as 16mm (on full-frame). For my shots, though, being that high up with such a wide lens would have been pointless. This is where the HTS1.5 adaptor comes in so handy.

The HTS1.5 is not only giving you movement, it’s multiplying the lens focal length by 1.5. So my 80mm becomes a 120mm, which is about equivalent to 85mm on full-frame DSLR. This is about perfect for shooting from a high building even up to 42 floors.

Using the camera isn’t particularly easy. It’s heavy. With the HTS 1.5, lens and body you’re looking at upwards of 3.5kgs. The depth and plane of focus is so shallow withe the lens wide open at f/4.5 (yes, the aperture gets a 1.5 multiplication as well, so 2.8 becomes 4.5) that I tend not so use a tripod. It’s just too time consuming and fiddly to get the plane of focus just where you want it, especially with moving subjects, and many of the places I wanted to shoot don’t allow tripods anyway. So, manipulating 4kgs of camera with a razor-thin depth of field, hand-held, becomes a bit of a wrist-killer after a while. Plus, the weather is damned hot. Despite being inside, I was up against windows all of the time and I’m crap at dealing with summer in Japan,

I was simply looking for things – big or small – in the landscape that caught my attention. I’d get to the building, walk around the various windows, look at everything for a while first and then decide where to start shooting from. Road junctions, taxis, things painted on the road, trains, trams, people, specific features of buildings, signs… anything that had some colour, some shape or that was lit in a way that appealed to me.

This is the start of a wider collection. There may even be an exhibition at some point. There’s definitely some depth in this subject and technique for me and it’s a lot of fun.

A note on the post-production: these shots often come out a little hazy, due to the way the light is entering the lens when the lens is shifted and tilted. Typically I am suing a little of the ‘de-haze’ filter in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) to get rid of some of this. But that filter tends to really amp the saturation and contrast. These can actually suit these sorts of images. You want a little more contrast and saturation than normal, to make the effect work best. But, as with all post-pro, a little of this and a little of that are the name of the game. You don’t want to overdo it.

Workflow? get the shot looking good with basic RAW adjustments in Hasselblad’s Phocus software. Then it’s make a TIFF and into Photoshop, where I use the ACR filter and the colour balance adjustments on the ‘Image>Adjustments’ menu to get the look I want.

The shots of the Tokyo Tower were all shot towards sunset, mostly at between 6500 and 7800K. The CCD sensor in the H4D-40 that I own is wonderful with colour rendition. There isn’t ever a huge amount of post-pro to do and all of the edits on these images took no more than 5-minutes per image.

Hope you enjoy the shots. It was lots of fun shooting and editing them.


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