Stellar Year Wedding Photography » New York Wedding Photography Blog

Sunrise in Our Nation’s Capital

In September, I (Pak) took a road trip with my family to Washington DC. On this trip, I had the chance to try out a rented Canon TS-E 17mm f/4 tilt-shift lens for architectural photography. Using a tilt-shift lens was on my photography bucket list so I was very excited to be able to finally try this lens out.

During the first two days of having this lens (before arriving at DC), I can truly say that I absolutely hated it while practicing with it. I found the operation of the knobs to be a clunky operation. The knobs on the rented lens were very stiff and hard to rotate, which didn’t help. However, once I got the hang of it, I quickly grew to enjoy using it.

My wife and I have three young children so getting personal photography time was not so easy. In the three day road trip, I only got to do my own stuff one morning. I woke up at 4AM and trekked by foot from my hotel towards the Washington and Lincoln Memorials for some early-morning photography.
(The left image below was taken with the 17mm TS-E at about 5:30AM while the grass was still wet)

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Using the tilt-shift lens properly requires patience and lots of preparation. All focusing is done manually (it is, after all, a manual focus only lens). My camera was mounted onto a ballhead attached to my tripod. I started off by using a bubble level mounted in the hot-shoe of my camera and adjusting the ballhead until the camera was level. Metering was done manually before the lens was shifted. After that, I switched to live view mode and zoomed in 10x to make sure the manual focusing was accurate. Once focus was acquired, I would then shift the lens appropriately until the vertical lines looked vertical in the LCD and rechecked the focus. Finally, I would snap the shot and check the image in the back of the camera to make sure exposure and focus were perfect. I would do this for each and every shot, especially if I changed camera position.

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In the photo above (of the Lincoln Memorial), my own shadow is the middle one in the cluster of 3 shadows under Lincoln. The two shadows on the left provide a sense of scale for the pillars and the room itself. Of the handful of “serious shots” I took on my trip, I think the one above is my favorite.

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In addition to messing around with the TS-E lens, I also took photos with a 70-200 f/2.8L IS II lens on my 5D Mark III. I have to say in all my travels, I have yet to encounter such a fiery sky. The following shots of the Washington Memorial with the Capitol Building behind were taken as the sun was rising and putting brilliant color into the cloud cover.

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Below are a few more images of Lincoln Memorial below taken with the 70-200 zoom and a final hand-held shot in the National Museum of History taken with the 17mm TS-E lens (just using it as a wide angle lens and not utilizing the tilt-shift functionality).

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I was pleased to be able to check off the tilt-shift curiosity from my bucket list. Would I buy this lens? To be honest, after trying it out during my trip, I would not. I don’t do all that much architectural photography so it would be hard to justify spending over $2,200 on it. The lens does produce beautifully sharp photos with great color and contrast but is also a bit cumbersome to use. Additionally, the 17mm TS-E takes up a lot of space in the camera bag. Though I will miss the perspective correction capabilities from having such a lens (as you can see in the next image, taken with a 35L, where vertical line convergence is noticeable).

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Overall, the chance to photograph these national landmarks with such a unique lens was a special opportunity worth the early wake-up call and the long walk.

– Pak