How does Tilt Shift Work? The Miniature Effect

What is Tilt Shift Photography

Tilt shift is a photography technique used to manipulate the subject of a photo and make it look toy-like and miniature. Tilt shift changes the focal plane and depth of field in a photograph. A focal plane is the plane that the focus perpendicular to the axis of the lens on a camera. The tilt controls what part of the photo is sharp, while the shift controls the framing of the photo. With a typical tilt shift lens, the focal plane is effected by the tilt of a camera, and the perspective of the image is affected by the shift without even having to move the camera.

Luckily, this type of photo can be achieved with or without a tilt shift lens.

There are also some cameras that have a tilt shift option, like the Nikon, which is how this picture was taken.

Chevreuse. May 2014.

Without a tilt shift lens, the miniature effect is achieved by a lens blurring effect in front of and behind the subject to focus and give a toy-like illusion to the photo. This gives a very shallow depth of field making it appear miniature. Adding saturation to the editing process also helps it achieve a more toy-like effect on the photo. This process done in the post-production editing stages rather than while taking the photo, as you would with a tilt shift lens.

Miniature Effect Aside, Why is Tilt Shift Beneficial?

Tilt shift is very beneficial in a lot of various types of photos. From portraits to landscape, there are pros and cons to using the effect. Tilt shift is meant to be a manipulator to your photo, changing the way you viewed it in the first place and creating an illusion. It is not only used for the miniature effect though, it can be helpful when photographing architecture, a mirror, landscape, and portraits.

In architectural photography it can minimize distortion specifically when photographing taller buildings. Photographing a mirror can be difficult when you are in the reflection, tilt shift can be helpful and allow it to look like you took a photo head on when in reality you are off to the side. In landscape photography and panoramic, tilt shift is helpful but it can also make scenes look miniature, and as if you are taking a photo from up in the clouds. Tilt shifts lens are also very useful in panoramic shots as the lens can move side to side and up and down, without needing to move physically. This unfortunately will not work as easy for a regular lens and post production editing, but editing itself is fairly easy in most cases. Portrait photos allow you to completely focus on the subjects and creating a blurry background to emphasize subjects as you wish. In another sense, portrait photos are also taken with tilt shift to emphasize more than one subject in a photo to create a narrative. Of course, not all portraits are done this way and they don’t need to be.

Lyon. December 2014.

In this photo above, you can see how the blurring of foreground and background surrounding the subject makes him appear small and as if we were looking into a diorama of miniature models. Even the gnomes are placed perfectly on the steps, it almost does look fake. Tilt shift is not for everyone, obviously it’s easier if you have a lens to see the image created as you are using it, but it comes with its own difficulties finding the correct aperture and perspective for your photos.

Funny enough, this was taken while inside of the Cinematic and Miniature Museum… keep reading if you want to see pictures from inside the museum.

Post-Production: Tilt Shift Effect

Luckily, on Adobe Photoshop there is an actual tilt shift selection that will do most of the work for you if you don’t have a lens. Adobe Photoshop isn’t the only application that can help you edit though, there are applications devoted to tilt shift such as TiltShiftMaker.

Not all of the magic is in the post production though, there are some parameters you should follow to create a successful piece. Some things you should keep in mind when planning to add the tilt shift effect to your photos is to capture a wide frame, high elevation/perspective, and as much depth as you can. In the editing phase of creating your tilt shift photos, these will create a perfect illusion.

For reference, this photo was taken in Cannes of a dick fishing game back in 2016. The colors of the ducks unfortunately were faded from being in the sun all the time. This is the before.

Before Tilt Shift Editing

This editing was done in TiltShiftMaker using the effect ‘miniature’, and here are the results below.

27939534382_fbe303a1cf_k-tiltshift miniature
Post-Production Tilt Shift Editing

Below is one final tilt shift photo for you. It might not be for you or be accessible to you if you don’t have the lens or editing applications, but if you do I think it is definitely worth testing out for a variety in your photos.

Platform of a Lighthouse in Normandy. 2016.

Though this photo was taken with Tilt Shift mode on a Nikon, post-production editing does just fine to create the same effect.

Try one of these out and let me know what you think.

Cinematic and Miniature Museum: Lyon

Tilt shift aside, let’s take a look at some actual miniature models, not manipulated by a lens or editing…

Located in Lyon, the Cinema and Miniature Museum is a must see. Dan Ohlmann, the founder of the museum, and most of the artists involved in the museum composed of 120 miniature models for over 450 different cinematic uses. Founded in 2005, this museum is home to real props, costumes, and secrets from cinematic masterpieces such as Batman, Spiderman, Star Wars, Stuart Little and many more. Directly after filming has ended, these pieces are brought to the museum and restored by the artists if needed to keep them in pristine conditions. The props used in these movies are life sized, and there are no pictures in this article about them, I find more enjoyment in the miniature collections.

Miniature subway inn
Alan Wolfson’s views of an imaginary 1950s NYC.

Museum founder Dan Ohlmann often created these miniature sets before he went on to create life size versions for his work in theatre. His time in this realm didn’t last long as he fell to the obsession of creating these miniature sets.

miniature kitchen

Alan Wolfson’s views of an imaginary 1950s NYC.

These sets, as most miniature models are, area created using a 1:12 ratio, meaning that an object that is one centimeter within the model, is 12 centimeters in the real-life model.miniature restaurantThough these models are not real, I feel a sense of fondness and amiability looking into them. The attention to detail is incredible, and all on a centimeter scale, the scene is exceedingly convincing.

miniature office roomBefore I knew these were miniature models when I saw them in the album, I was genuinely convinced these were just various locations being photographed.

Alan Wolfson’s views of an imaginary 1950s NYC.

Some are more convincing than others though…

miniature burgers
Alan Wolfson’s views of an imaginary 1950s NYC.

The toilets in the NYC subway. Don’t spit on the ground!

If you ever find yourself in Lyon, the historical center of it to be exact, I would recommend this museum (it’s accessible to all). Even for those who don’t love cinema, the miniature part of the museum will keep you entertained.

What miniature model was most convincing to you?

Emilie Leger
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