Tilt Shifting

April 18, 2008 By: erik Category: Geeky, Photos, Photoshop 1,004 views

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For the past month, I’ve started a new hobby. I used to think that people that kept little model trains and spent their time making miniature dioramas were a little crazy. But I’ve recently changed my opinion. I had the idea that it would be cool to create little miniature models of some of the places I’ve been and photographed. So I went down to the local crafts store, and purchased little trees and little people figurines, and have been spending my nights in my office making these little miniature models of my photos, and photographing them. This might seem like a waste of time to you, but it’s truly fascinating to me. After a full month of getting only 4 hours of sleep every night, spending every waking moment, and roughly a month’s salary on this project, I finally have some results to show you. I hope you like them.
Bien Aparecida Tilt-Shift

This is a model of the Bien Aparecida church a few kilometers from my house.

Leon Bullring Tilt-Shift

This is a model of the León bullring. It was hard to get the lighting right on this one. The little bullfighting horse models were easy to find in Spain, though.

Grenada Homes Tilt-Shift

Some houses in Grenada. This was the easiest one to make.

Extremadura Tree Tilt-Shift

A tree in Extremadura, Spain. I couldn’t quite get the tree right, but I’m pretty satisfied with it.

Grenada Tilt-Shift

This is a replica of Grenada, where our honeymoon cruise ship stopped.

Pretty cool, huh?

Coming Clean

Okay, how many of you fell for that hobbyist modeling farce? None of the content of this post above this point is true. Each of those images took me less than five minutes in Photoshop. I recently became aware of a type of photography called tilt-shift photography, which is a method of shifting the lens of the camera from the body slightly. This is, of course, extremely difficult. Luckily, there’s also a method of tilt-shift miniature faking, which can be done very simply with a photo editing program, such as Photoshop. There are many tutorials out there, but I mainly followed this one.

How It Works

Almost more fascinating to me than the methodology and optical illusion about tilt-shift faking is understanding why our brains see these images as miniature models. From what I can tell, it’s based on the fact that close-up photos of small objects tend to have a very small depth of field. But I don’t think it’s solely based on our perceptions of how photos normally are. I think that our eyes, when viewing something miniature, also create a depth of field effect where only a small portion of the field of view is in focus. Whether I’m right or not, it’s a pretty cool phenomenon and I will definitely be playing more with it in the future. Now that I know what kind of photographs lend themselves to this effect (mainly shots from above), I will be mindful of opportunities to take such photographs.

There are plenty more examples of this effect on Flickr. Now that you know how it’s done, you can look at any of these images and see a horizontal band of the photo in focus and the rest blurred. That’s all there really is to it.

I still think that miniature hobbyists have a screw loose. If that’s you, feel free to berate me in the comments.

  • I still say those bullfighting horses look like models…

  • Thanks, Simon. Frankly, they aren’t that convincingly real in the original photograph either.

  • Heh. I knew you were lying because I know the odds of you taking on a hobby like that are as slim as the odds of me doing it. Still, I love, love, love the images.

  • I actually fell for it… mainly because I could see you doing something like that. You are always doing something that causes me to say, “where in the heck does he get the time”.

    Ever since the movie Beetlejuice, I’ve had a lingering desire to do something like this. The movie has the Alec Baldwin making a miniature replica of the town they live in. It just hit me as really cool.

    Last Christmas when my mom was helping me with a massive train setup, I offhandedly mentioned this. Her response floored me. She said, “Your father has something similar to that up in the attic.” “What?!”, I replied. I still haven’t ventured up into her attic to see what he did, but I’m glad that your blog reminded me of that. Next time I’m up there I’m going up there. My wife doesn’t let me go up there often, as I always come down with stuff she calls “junk”.

    Captcha – pachyderm

  • Jake

    The only reason I didn’t fall for this is because of the incredible amount of time building these types of models actually takes. For someone with no experience and only working nights, this would take at least close to a year (and possibly more) instead of just a month.

  • You’re right, Jake. The two or three dioramas I made for school over the years took forever and looked really crappy. I would never come close to the patience to create a model even approaching the realism of these photos.

    Alan, I’d forgotten about that model town in Beetlejuice. There’s only one scene that I clearly remember from Beetlejuice.