Fake Miniaturisers != Fake Tilt-Shift

Coal Miki-Restall calls foul on the ‘fakes’.

Fake miniaturisers have been a popular toy-camera style application for a while now. The principle behind them is that the brain can instinctively recognise certain visual clues such as an absurdly shallow depth of field and interpret them as meaning that the scene in the picture is very very small. Anybody with experience with macro photography knows how tricky it is to get very close-up subjects in focus as the depth of focus is often less than a millimetre front to back. So basically, large scale has a nice wide focus range, small scale has a narrow focus range. Your brain gets this, even if you’re there scratching your head trying to figure out what I just said.

What the fake miniaturiser does is to take a nice large scale scene which is probably mostly in focus, and then fakes a shallow focus to give the impression that it’s much smaller than it really is. It’s not an exact science – all they’re doing is making the assumption that the camera is looking diagonally down onto a scene with the top furthest away, picking a line that will be the focus “distance” and making everything above and below that line increasingly fuzzy. Often they’ll increase the saturation and brightness too to give the unspoken impression that the scene is comprised of brightly painted models under clear artificial lighting. Some Creative Commons examples from Flickr:

Prague - Fake Miniature by fionaandneil, on Flickr
By fionaandneil
Tilt Shift By The Sea
By jfravel
Tilt shift - the easy way
By swhite99


Evidently, some work better than others.

A similar effect can be achieved in-camera by using a specialised lens known as a tilt-shift. The lens elements can be physically displaced left, right, up and down, and can also be tilted in all directions so it’s attempting to project an image onto a plane that isn’t parallel to the film or image sensor. This allows a wide range of perspective correction and distortion, and focus related effects to be achieved.

For example, by pointing the camera diagonally down onto a scene, focussing around the middle (or wherever you like really), then tilting the lens a little downward, you can get the focal distance to be based on distance from the ground upward rather than distance from the lens, meaning your entire landscape near and far is in focus (but with the tops of trees all blurred). Tilting the lens up on the other hand gives the opposite effect – the focal distance is closest to the lens at the top of the picture (where the furthest away scene elements are) and furthest from the lens at the bottom. This exaggerates the natural focus depth significantly giving an effect that’s similar to shooting a miniature close up, as in the example by Alfie, below: [more on how he did this at this link]

Rainy season arrives in Lilliput

I’d show some more examples, but unfortunately they’re very hard to find, the reason being that any search for tilt-shift pictures returns page upon page of shots that have been fake-miniaturised by software. Somehow it has entered the public lexicon that any kind of fake miniaturisation is by definition a “fake tilt-shift”. In fact, most of said fake-minaturisation applications are calling themselves just that. Two of the faked pictures linked above even have “Tilt-Shift” in their titles.

So let’s make it clear once and for all:

Fake miniaturisation by way of post-processing is as much a “fake tilt-shift” as a battering ram is a “fake credit card”.
(Hint – motel room doors…)

by Coal Miki-Restall

This piece was first featured on Coal’s own blog.

Interesting links:

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