Have you ever seen pictures of real people and places that appear miniature or as small as model figures? This is called tilt-shift photography and it has gained popularity over the years. A tilt-shift lens is used to create the effect, as well as offering various other benefits.
Basic Principles of Tilt-Shift
The tilt-shift technique goes back to the early years of photography when view cameras had accordion-like bellows so the lens could be moved. Since then, cameras and photo accessories have evolved but the principles of tilt and shift remain the same.
Tilt – When the image plane (sensor or film), the lens plane, and plane of focus are all parallel to each other, objects that are in focus would be at the same distance from the camera. But when only the lens is tilted while the camera body (and thus the image plane) is not moved, the plane of focus is now at an angle and objects that are at various distances can now be sharply in focus. This can be quite useful when doing landscape photography where you may want objects of varying distances to be clear and defined.
Shift – with a tilt-shift lens, you can also “shift” the lens plane while keeping it parallel to the image plane. The camera angle stays the same as you adjust the subject’s position in the image plane. An advantage is that it can straighten converging lines to make them more parallel to each other in the photo. It’s a great help when shooting architecture, where structures can seem to lean backwards if you turn your camera angle up a little in trying to include it all in the image. With a tilt-shift lens, you can make buildings and tall objects appear more upright.
The Miniature Effect
Since the tilt-shift lens allows for selective focusing, you can create this distinct visual effect where objects and scenes appear to have shrunk, as if the ordinary world has suddenly become a miniature version of itself. Real people, buildings, cars, trees, and the like can appear like a model figures in the photograph, and this effect can be fascinating to see as a viewer and fun to make with the tit-shift lens.
By experimenting with the selective focusing brought about by the tilt shift method, you can have certain objects of varying distances in your scene appear sharp while keeping the rest blurry. This is rather tricky, and it is best to first be familiar and comfortable with operating the tilt-shift lens so you can maximize its potential.
The miniature effect using the tilt-shift lens is so popular that it is often copied using a photo editing program. Also, many tilt-shift photo apps are now available for the smart phone camera and the effect can be simulated with just a few swipes and taps of the finger.