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What is Tilt-Shift Photography?

There are two basic types of Tilt-shift photography. The first is a product of the digital photography age and can be done automatically by some digital cameras or created after the fact using digital editing software.

The second has been around for some time and involves using a special type of lens known as a “tilt-shift lens”.

Many people associate tilt-shift photography with the more commonly seen examples that create a “miniature" or "toy town” effect on a photo. However tilt-shift photography when done using a specialized tilt-shift lens has many more uses than simply creating this “miniature” effect.

Tilt Shift PhotographyExample of Tilt-Shift Photography Created in Camera Using a Sony Alpha A77

Tilt-Shift Photography in the Digital Age

Many digital cameras today come with specialized creative modes to all the photographer to automatically create digital special effects. One of those modes is the miniature or toy mode that simulates the effect of tilt-shift lens.

When done properly and on the right type of scene these “toy” or “miniature” modes allow the photographer to turn a normal real world scene into something that looks like a miniature or model railroad set.

Tilt Shift Photography

I have found that the “miniature” mode on my Sony Alpha DSLR does an excellent job of creating this special tilt-shift effect. But for those whose cameras do not have a similar mode you can easily create the same look using digital editing programs.

Tilt Shift Vertical

A great program for creating these and other special effects is Topaz Labs Lens Effects plugin for Adobe Photoshop. This type of program allows you complete control over the focal point of the image and how the effect is applied and does a great job in digitally simulating the effects of a tilt-shift lens as well as other lens effects. I highly recommend all of Topaz Labs digital filters. They are a staple in my digital workflow and digital darkroom editing.

Topaz Labs Tilt ShiftTilt Shift Photo Created Using Topaz Lens Effect Filter

There are several programs or ways to create a Tilt-Shift photograph using digital darkroom software.

  • The first is to use Adobe Photoshop and a special filter such as Topaz Labs Lens Effect.
  • The second is to use an online program called Tilt Shift Maker to create this type of effect.
  • Another software program that I personally have not used but is supposed to allow you to create these types of photos is Tilt Shift Generator
  • You can also create tilt-shift photos without additional filters or software directly in Adobe Photoshop. You will find an easy to follow tutorial on this webpage.

As with many special effects some photos or scenes are better suited than others. When it comes to creating “toy” or “miniature” scenes using the principles of tilt-shift photography here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • It is best to take the photos from a higher viewpoint without be directly overhead. Position yourself in a way where you can look down on your subject will generally give better results.
  • Simple scenes can give better results than really complex ones. Since true miniature scenes are often less complex than a normal busy street scene might be look for ways to keep the photo from being too busy or congested.
  • As with any photo having good light, the correct camera settings and a sharp, in focus subject will help your miniature or toy scene stand out.

Tilt-Shift Photography using a special Tilt-shift lens

Canon Tilt Shift LensA tilt-shift lens is a special lens that allows you to move the body of the lens in relation to the camera’s image sensor. Generally these lenses allow you to manually shift the lens in relation to the camera’s sensor. This allows the lens to move either up and down or from side to side and helps the photographer control the perspective of the image.
In addition to shifting the lens to control the perspective of the image these lenses also allow you to tilt the lens in relation to the camera’s image sensor. This tilting allows the photographer to increase or decrease the amount of the image that is in focus.

A quality tilt-shift lens can be used for several things by a photographer.

  1. Creating the same “Toy Town” or “Miniature” effect similar to what can be done digitally by today’s cameras. To create this effect the photographer points the camera down while tilting the lens up. This combination produces a very narrow depth of field and an extremely shallow area of focus. Creating this effect using a tilt-shift lens is more effective when you are shooting from a high viewpoint since it allows you to tilt the camera down more than if you were level with your subject. Using a wider aperture will also help increase this effect.
  2. Using a tilt-shift lens can help keep the correct perspective when photographing buildings and help avoid converging vertical lines. To accomplish this you begin with lens in the normal position and then shift it upward so that the vertical lines are kept straight.
  3. A tilt-shift lens can also help capture images to be merged together into a small panoramic photo. This is done shifting the lens from a left to right perspective and thus generating three images that then become your basis for a good panoramic photo.
  4. A tilt-shift lens can be used for selective focusing on vertical images. Similar to the “toy” or “miniature” effect mentioned above this one allows the photographer to create a photo with a narrow depth of field and thus call attention to his subject matter.
  5. A tilt-shift lens can also be used to increase the depth of field in a photo. This is done using very subtle changes in the tilt movement of the lens. The result is an image that has increased depth of field than what would normally be able to be captured at that aperture. The result when applied correctly can be similar to the wide depth of field that can be accomplished by focus stacking.