Monday, November 17, 2008

Tilt-Shift Photography

Tilt-Shift Photography -
We have a tendency to think of photography as “realistic” because it often seems to reproduce what we see with reasonable accuracy, but photography and human perception often diverge significantly.

You may have noticed when looking at photographs of small objects, models, dioramas or model train layouts, that there is a limited range of the scene that is in focus. This is due to the limited focal length of camera lenses when focused at short distances.

A fascinating practice that has become popular in the last couple of years is “tilt-shift photography”, the use of techniques involving tilting the lens relative to the plane of the scene, often from a high vantage point, mimicking the way small objects are often photographed from above, and using a large aperture (lens opening), creating a shallow depth of field, to produce photographs of real scenes and objects that look like miniatures.

There is a good selection of this kind of photography in a recent article on Smashing Magazine that serves as a nice introduction to the phenomenon if you haven’t encountered it before; and a resource for further investigation if you have. The article also includes some tilt-shift videos and some links to related resources.

It’s uncanny how strong the effect can be. Even when you know the scenes or objects are real, it’s difficult to shift out of the perception that you’re looking at objects in miniature.

Something to think about the next time you’re tempted to refer to a realist painting as “photographic”.

[Images above: Tiltshiftphotography.net and Tilt-Shift Photography: It’s A Small World After All]

4 thoughts on “Tilt-Shift Photography

  1. Charley Parker Post author

    Thanks, Dan. Yes, this can be done with creative masking and blurring, though I think it can be less dramatic than the effect of actual depth of field limits unless you take a lot of trouble in the areas were the blurred and unblurred areas meet.

  2. Tanja

    Funny you should post this today — I happened to be watching Masterpiece: Contemporary’s interesting presentation of “Filth” on PBS last night and I thought that it seemed that they were using this as part of their filming technique in the show (at least in the beginning) to emphasize Mrs. Whitehouse’s small town view of her happy, idealistic little world which then hit up against the BBC’s attempt to provide a broader modern view with shows of the “swinging sixties” London to their audiences.
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/filth/index.html

  3. Tobias

    I would hazard that both of these photographs are produced using the photoshop blur / masking technique. They both contain impossible blurring of objects that share the same depth as objects in focus.
    In the first picture notice the horizontal signs to the very centre-left; they’re blurred, yet they are clearly in line with the bus which is perfectly in focus. Notice how the same signs are more blurred towards the top than the bottom, how is this possible? Furthermore, there are no objects in the photo that are minutely out of focus, everything simply becomes heavily out of focus.

    In the second picture, notice the road to the bottom right, it appears perfectly in focus right to the bottom of the picture. Yet, how is this possible when the row of flats, to the left which are at the same distance appear totally blurred?

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