What is tilt-shift photography? :: Digital Photo Secrets

What is tilt-shift photography?

by David Peterson 8 comments

You may have heard about it before. Perhaps you’ve seen a tilt-shift lens or an old-fashioned camera with a bellows. Cameras and lenses like these can be used to shift the most focused part of your image, resulting in some interesting effects. One of them is the “fake miniature” image below. So, if you haven’t heard about tilt-shift photography yet, then consider this your introduction. I’ll show you everything you need to know.

Tilt-shift photography has to do with the ability to tilt or raise the lens in relation to the back of the camera where the image is focused. When you tilt the lens, you’re pointing it at a slightly different angle from the normal straight approach, and when you shift the lens, you’re moving it upwards or downwards to achieve the desired effect.

When photography was first invented, all cameras were tilt-shift cameras. The view camera allowed you to manipulate the end with the lens, either by tilting it upward/downward, moving it side to side, or moving it up or down. This design was common in the view cameras of the late 1800s, and it persisted until the advent of the compact camera. At that point, adding a tilt/shift mechanism to existing lenses was simply too costly for the average consumer who was unlikely to use it.

To do tilt-shift photography these days, you need to get a special tilt-shift lens. This lens attaches to your digital SLR and allows you to change the view angle or shift the lens upward and downward to achieve the desired effect. The lens below is a tilt shift lens made by Cannon, and it retails for $3,499.

Canon Tile Shift lens. Click for more details

What can you do with tilt-shift photography?

Architectural photographers benefit the most from tilt-shift photography. It comes in handy whenever they’re trying to take a picture of a building from ground level. If you don’t angle the camera upwards from this perspective, you won’t get the entire building in the frame. However, if you do tilt the entire camera upwards, the top of the building bends backwards and its straight lines no longer appear straight.

To remedy this problem, architectural photographers use a tilt-shift lens. By controlling the angle of the lens, they can fit the entire building into the scene while keeping the building’s straight lines straight.

Miniature faking

Tilt-shift photography is also associated with miniature faking, a technique used to make ordinary scenes appear as though they have been captured with a macro lens. To get this effect, you use a tilt-shift lens in conjunction with a wide aperture to create an unusually small depth of field. Subjects closer to, and further away from the small focus point range will be blurry.

It appears as though you’re looking down at a miniature model, whereas you are really looking at the real thing. The extremely shallow depth of field creates this effect, making you think the image was taken with a macro lens.

Who should invest a tilt-shift lens?

Only professionals who are getting paid for their work should shell out the big bucks for a lens like this. If you photograph buildings for a living, you won’t get very far without a tilt-shift lens. But if you’re a hobbyist, you can create most of these effects (including building straightening) in Photoshop. There’s simply no need to pay $3,499 for a lens that you’ll only use to create a few effects.

In a future tutorial, I’ll show you how to create the fake miniature effect in Photoshop. It’s a lot of fun, and it will definitely turn some heads. Until then, keep doing what you’re doing and send along your favorite pics.

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  2. Carl Strom says:

    In the Apple Apps world you can also find quite handy Tilt-Shift apps for a few bucks

  3. Lyman Duggan says:

    You can do similar in photoshop or use a program free for download called shiftN This requires no adjustment and corrects for paralleling in architecture as mentioned above. When shooting you have to allow for some cropping that occurs when the new corrected image is rendered.

  4. peter says:

    you don't need to shell out thousands for a tilt shift lens. there's always the lens baby line available for far less.

  5. David says:

    You can also do it on the web at http://tiltshiftmaker.com/ if you do not have photoshop or do not want to invest in a lens.

  6. andre kremer says:

    Dear David, I do have some experience in tilt shift photography,as did my masters in the late 70's in architectural psychology with an experimental redesign of inner cities by photgraphing a large part of an innercity and then rebuild it on scale in a miniature model based on the photographs I had made. I used a technical camera (Linhof) with tilt shift. But I used this camera some time ago also for portraits, shot with half profie, but with both eyes in the "shifted" focus field with a very large lens opening. This gives a special effect that you cannot get with Photoshop.
    Best ANdr

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