Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Faux Tilt-shift project
Big Sur Tilt-shift

Tilt-shift camera lenses are a rarefied accessory used for very specialized applications. Essentially, they involve manipulating the depth of field visible in the image by changing the relative relationship between focal planes...I'll humbly admit I don't fully grasp the optical principles involved.

This is fun. We're having fun.

Tilt-shift has traditionally been used in landscape and building photography to counter issues of perspective. However, it's most well know these days for miniature-faking; making real world pictures look like they've been taken of a miniature world. Which apparently is a thing some people are really in to. You can see some great examples here.

So a picture of a busy street with tilt-shift-ery creates an optical illusion, making it seem like a shoe box diorama of miniatures. The optical illusion has something to do with very shallow depth of field, and the way our mind interprets distance by changes in depth of field. or something.  I've never messed with it much, given a lack of an expensive tilt-shift lens or, honestly, any interest whatsoever.

That being said, a friend linked me to a website that creates a faux tilt-shift effect on your photos. As part of a personal goal to do more photography projects this year, I gave it a whirl with some pics from my archive. As it turns out, it's not as easy as it looks. To really fool the eye, you need to have some very specific circumstances. You have to have a area of similar distance that's parrallel to the focal plane, and you need surroundings that aren't an immediate a background of sea and clouds, which are cues to the brain of context. The best of this type of picture are often streetscapes taken from wider angles. Some of mine turned out ok, but most failed the test.

This shot of Heimay Harbor in the Vestmannaeyjar Islands worked pretty well because it's far enough away, taken form slightly above, and the isolated area of focus is all roughly the same real world distance away. 

This picture of historic buildings at Thingvellir, Iceland works to some degree, but the eye notices the mountains in the background. A cropped version might work better. 

From Cannery Row, in Monterey, this picture would have worked better if there were some cars in the same focal area as the crossbridge. Because the focus is horizontal, but the picture has depth that moves vertically/into the picture, focusing on the road doesn't work well. 

Yet another Iceland image, this line of icebergs made a really good parallel area of focus.

This bridge from Big Sur, California would have worked better of the sky had been cropped out.

A tiny toy car? No, full-sized Lotus in Besalu, Spain. So-so on this one. The picture is too tightly framed to really create an illusion. 

Another shot from Spain (boats at Cadaques). Another opportunity to improve a good horizontal focus area by cropping out context clues like the sky and clouds behind. However, the area behind the boats is so deep to begin with, our eye is not fooled very much. It looks like just a very shallow depth of field picture. 

This is another take on the Cadaques "toy" boats. 

While we're on boats...this shot of "toy" ships in a Washington harbor might have worked better in color. 

This arch in Central Park seems to work well, even though the light is partially in focus, and partially (at its base) out. Going in later and blurring the area through the arch would probably accent the effect. If I was overly motivated. 

This Bridge in Great Smokey Mountains National Park is a great horizontal area of focus, making it a decent miniature candidate. The level of detail in the plants/water, and the focused area under the bridge keep it from totally fooling the eye though. 

The same problem exists for the "model" horses (near Hella, Iceland). They are very detailed, and in motion poses, keeping our eye from "reading" them as miniatures. The lack of a lot of foreground prior to the area of focus also detracts a bit. 

This picture from Alicante, Spain works well for the effect, but the detail in the girl, the closeness of the shot, and her motion detract from the effect. 

These statues at a (now-defunct) Texas recreation of the Terracotta Warriors of China are fairly small to begin with (2-3' tall). So the tilt-shift effect just makes them look a little more miniature, but not much. The problem being that different depths (note the feet of the soldiers in the third row) are in the same horizontal focus area. Our eye knows that these areas should be blurred. 

Hubcaps line the ceiling at Ninfa's, in Houston, TX. Now they're tiny hubcabs. Sort of. Bad picture quality didn't help here. 

This picture of cheese makig at the Tilamook factory in Washington state seems like it should have worked better than it did. I think it would have been better if taken farther away. 

I did two versions of these "Viking" longhouses at Heimay, Iceland. I can't decide which worked better/worse. The first suffers from lack of an interesting subject in focus (the rock), the second has issues with multiple depths in the same horizontal plane (mountains behind the longhouses are deeper, but still in focus.)

There was nice hroizontal isolation in this boulder (about the size of a large microwave in real life) shot from Smoky Mountains, but the level of detail in the objects makes our eye skeptical of them as miniatures.

I liked the look of the "miniature" furniture in this shot from Cadaques, Spain. I think I need to redo it, though, to reposition the blue, and crop out some of the depth in the top part of the image. 

All in all it was a fun exercise, and I have more respect for the number of factors that need to be right to create the optical illusion, even if it's still not a compelling style to me.

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