It’s A Small World After All: 7 Illusory Tilt-Shift Photographs

I’ve seen so many pictures where I thought I was looking at photographs of highly-detailed miniature sets of real world subjects. It was only when I found out about the magic of tilt shift photography that I discovered that those pictures were the real things, just made to look like they were toys.

I’ve since done a little research to learn how it’s accomplished. It can actually be done with just a camera that has a tilt-shift lens or with the help of image editing software like Photoshop. Tilt-shift lenses in a DSLR camera are angled in such a way that just one part of the picture is sharply focused, leaving the rest in a blur.

This technique has other uses, such as in architectural photography to really highlight the height of tall buildings. But for making real-world pictures look like miniatures, there are a couple of tips that should be kept in mind.

You need to shoot from above, but not overhead. It gives the picture the depth of field necessary for pulling off the look. Make sure the part of the picture you want to focus on comes out sharp, and you’ll need good lighting for that.

Tilt-Shift “Miniature” Photos
To inspire you to take your own tilt-shift photos, here are some cool photos taken by five experts of the technique.

Ben Thomas

32 year-old Ben Thomas of Adelaide, Australia has gained fame and acclaim for being one of the first to really show off the creative fun of tilt-shift photography. His work has him flying across the world, taking pictures of his home country, England, France and the USA.

This is a picture of Federation Square during the AFL Grand Final Day in 2007. As you can see, only the building and the grounds at the back are in focus. The photo then manages to highlight the grandness and the excitement for the festivities.

In this photograph of Paris, the cityscape is a sea of white that leads the eyes eventually to the monumental Arc de Triomphe.

Olivo Barbieri

Veteran Italian photographer Olivo Barbieri took on tilt-shift photography to change how people view cities. He outgrew the simple idea of city photographs showing everything, so he decided to pull back and give the spotlight solely to the city.

This shot of a Las Vegas block brings out a sense of artificiality, showing a characteristic the City of Sin is known for with its gaudy architecture that only shines at night.

In Oliveri’s homeland, he depicts the iconic ruins of Rome’s Colosseum in a way that makes it look something like a diorama.

Vincent Laforet

One of today’s most accomplished photographers is Vincent Laforet, with his works published everywhere from Time to National Geographic to the New York Times Magazine. He’s won multiple awards including the Pulitzer Prize, and he’s been lauded as one of the pioneers in tilt-shift photography.

The suburban dream is made to look even more dream-like here, as Laforet captures the tranquility and uniformity of a middle class neighborhood. It’s like something out of a real estate agent’s office, promising a quiet and easy life with “model” houses complete with “model” pools, playgrounds and cars.

Matt West

The playful photographer Matt West isn’t just content with taking pictures of the world as it is, editing the images he’s captured with software to add a touch of absurdity. He also takes that same playfulness with tilt-shift photography, as seen in the following picture.

By taking a picture of a building in Loughborough from the top of a multistory car park, he allows himself the perfect perspective. Using PaintShop Pro, he blurs the top and bottom of the picture and inserts his hand with a brush, as if putting on the finishing touches to his Loughborough “model”.

Ana Klea Moraes

Although she has mostly dabbled in original illustrations and taking pictures of cats, Ana Klea Moraes also managed to show a deft hand in tilt-shift photography with this example below.

What would have been an ordinary picture of a car park filled with vehicles and dotted with trees is somehow made peculiar when tilt-shift is applied. The cars look like matchbox toys, and the bright green trees seem plastic. Everyday reality suddenly looks so fake.

Like the Las Vegas picture of Barbieri, this tilt shift photo of carnival grounds heightens the effect of a façade. Everything seems to be just a bit too colorful.

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