Tilt-shift photography refers to various techniques used to create special effects in photographs. Special tilt-shift lenses from makers like Canon and Nikon can be moved (shifted) and pointed at different angles (tilted) to achieve the desired effects.
Architectural photographers use tilt-shift lenses to correct the leaning effect seen in photos of tall buildings taken from ground level. When tilt-shift lenses are used, photographers can control the angle of the lens to fit the entire building into the composition and ensure that the building’s vertical lines appear straight.
Moreover, the tilt feature in tilt-shift lenses is used in landscape photography to ensure that every element in the composition, including objects in the foreground and background, appear in sharp focus. Tilt-shift photography also refers to the use of tilt for selective focus during the creation of fake miniature scenes (also known as miniature faking).
Miniature faking makes photos of life-sized locations or objects appear like miniature scale models. The photograph below shows an actual village in Germany, and the tilt-shift effect was used to make the village look like a miniature scale model. Aside from tilt-shift camera lenses, the miniaturized effect can be achieved by using software such as Adobe Photoshop, smartphone apps, and tilt-shift generators.
Creating Fake Miniatures with Tilt-Shift Lenses
Canon’s TS-E 24mm and Nikon’s PC-E NIKKOR 24mm f/3.5D ED are prime examples of tilt-shift lenses. To create a successful fake miniature using these lenses, it’s best to point the camera down and tilt the lens up to simulate the effect of looking down on a miniature. A tripod will come in handy when shooting tilt-shift images.
To make the scene appear as though it was captured with a macro lens, the tilt-shift lens should be used with a wide aperture (such as the f/3.5 in the TS-E 24mm) to create an unusually small depth of field (DoF). Using this technique, subjects closer to and further away from the small focus point range will appear blurry. Blurring parts of the photo also makes the scene appear much smaller than it actually is.
The fake miniature effect is less effective if the scene includes objects of significant height, such as tall buildings and trees, particularly when photographed at an angle close to the ground. This is because there is a sharpness gradient along the surfaces that is clearly the same distance from the camera.
While shooting fake miniatures with tilt-shift lenses can be fun when properly mastered, tilt-shift lenses are a pricey investment, making them a viable purchase only for professionals and the most committed hobbyists. Fortunately, fake miniatures can also be created using Adobe Photoshop.
Creating Fake Miniatures with Adobe Photoshop
Digital post-processing via image editing software is another great way to achieve the fake miniature effect. Adobe Photoshop’s lens blur filter, the sharpness gradients, and the saturation and contrast features can be used to achieve an effect that is quite similar to that obtained from tilt-shift lenses.
Digital post-processing offers greater flexibility than tilt-shift lenses, as the former allows you to choose the region of sharpness and amount of blur for the areas that aren’t sharp in an existing image.
Choosing the Right Photo
While it can be challenging to pick a photo that can be successfully transformed into a fake miniature, you can follow two general rules:
1. Choose photos of scenes in the distance.
It’s better to choose photos of scenes in the distance as opposed to close-up shots. Close-up shots of one or more subjects rarely work well when faking miniatures.
2. Choose photos with a good balance of both near and far areas.
Photos taken at an angle looking down at the scene often make good fake miniatures. As you’ll want to achieve the illusion of focusing the camera at a very specific distance, you should choose a photo with a good balance of both near and far areas.
Using Adobe Photoshop
Different versions of Adobe Photoshop allow users to create tilt-shift images. This tutorial shows users how to create tilt-shift images on Photoshop CS2 on desktop. Those who are using Photoshop CC and later versions can use the tilt-shift blur feature to create fake miniatures. The tilt-shift blur is the third of the five blur filters found in the Blur Gallery, and was first introduced in Photoshop CS6.
Image Source: Vincent Laforet
Creating Fake Miniatures with Smartphones
Miniature faking with a smartphone works best if the scene is captured through a high vantage point. Also, the diorama effect is easier to achieve if people and other objects appear small.
You should load a tilt-shift filter (normally called the “miniature” or “blur” effect) in your default camera app. If no tilt-shift filters are available, you can use a separate app to edit an existing photo that you’ve already taken.
Social media users can use Instagram’s tilt-shift effect for miniature faking. To create a convincing effect on Instagram, the center of the photo should be in focus, and there should be a gradual blur towards the top and bottom of the photo.
iOS users can use apps like TiltShiftGen2, while Windows Phone users can use the Lumia Creative Studio app to create fake miniatures. Android users can produce a similar effect using Pixlr.
Those who are taking photos using their third-party tilt-shift apps should adjust the exposure, if needed, to emphasize the highlights and avoid losing detail in the picture’s shadowy areas. Once that’s done, they can add the blur effect on selected areas of their photos and select their plane of focus.
Creating Fake Miniatures with Tilt-Shift Generators
Finally, you can use tilt-shift generators to transform existing photos into fake miniatures. Simply upload an existing photo to the site (without having to sign up) and fiddle with the variety of adjustment such as choosing the image’s focal point, bokeh effects, areas to blur, and color enhancements (membership to the site provides even more adjustment options). You can then use the “preview” button to see the results and download the image to your hard drive.
Liz Pekler is a travel photographer with almost 10 years of experience in the field. When she is not out exploring the world, she likes to share her knowledge about photography and travel through writing for blogs.