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Specifically, what's the best way to go about shooting photos that have a fake miniature quality to them, which produces high-quality (and believable) images? Is there some special lens that you can shoot these kinds of photographs without resorting to Photoshop?

(For a software post-processing effect, see How to get a miniature effect on pictures without special equipment?)

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12 Answers 12

up vote 20 down vote accepted

The best way absolutely is to use a dedicated tilt-shift lens. They are quite pricey, and manual control only, but that is the best option, and you asked for the best. For some examples, see Canon's TS lineup and Nikon's Perspective Control lineup.

Assuming you don't have $1000 to spend (Or more), then your next best option is to try for something like a Lensbaby. They are somewhat pricey, but only a couple hundred dollars.

Assuming that neither of these is in your budget, you could try some of the other suggestions have come up, I won't bother repeating them.

You're going to be very hard pressed to find a software solution, because it's really difficult to change the focal point using software, and that's what a tilt lens does.

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Looks like the Nikon adapter that Lensbaby sells would be the best option in terms of price ($2k for a lens, Nikon, really? Unbelievable!). Thanks! –  SpikeX Feb 15 '11 at 17:09
    
Tilt-shift is a very hard thing to do right, it doesn't surprise me that it's that expensive... It's about the same on Canon's side. Lensbaby is a good alternative for people who just want to play around with it, but you did ask what the best option was;-) –  PearsonArtPhoto Feb 15 '11 at 17:45
    
Indeed I did, and I'm glad you covered all the bases. –  SpikeX Feb 15 '11 at 22:49

Wikipedia has a pretty in-depth article on perspective control lenses (AKA "tilt-shift" lenses), which allow you to tilt the lens from its usual mounting axis, changing the plane of focus. Perspective control lenses tend to be pricey.

There are various mount shims and other gadgets to get similar effects for less money. One example is the LensBaby line of products.

A no-cost alternative you can try with any SLR is free-lensing; shooting with the lens held off the camera, so it can be positioned along a different axis than the standard one.

It's also possible to create a similar effect in Photoshop. The web is full of tutorials for "fake tilt shift" effects. Here's one.

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2  
I have posted some guides for free-lensing here: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/8513/what-is-freelensing/… –  alexandrul Feb 11 '11 at 7:50

For cheap Tilt lens, check Lensbaby and especially the Composer.

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I also recommend the Lensbaby - but be aware that tilt shift is a much more challenging effect to achieve than you might think - even with a tilt shift lens I end up with 2-3x more throw awasy with tilt shift, but the keepers are worth it!

There are also plenty of ways to DIY a tilt-shift lens

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Lensbaby is a great product, but it's not technically a "tilt shift". Lensbabys tilt, but they don't "shift"

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I'm not exactly sure what this refers to. If you were trying to comment on someone elses answer, then you will need to delete this and post a comment on that answer. If you wish to offer an actual answer, you should edit your post to provide something more useful than what you've currently stated about Lensbaby, as that does not directly pertain to the question. –  jrista Mar 29 '11 at 21:22

There are cheaper tilt-shift options than the Canon/Nikon offerings, that are of higher quality than Lensbaby.

One idea is the Arax T/S adaptor for other lenses:

http://vnm.fi/~ttv/oldies/TS_Review/

With that adaptor, you put other lenses you already own on top and then it can tilt and shift - I believe the downside is that you cannot focus to infinity any longer.

Another is a somewhat cheap Russian T/S lens:

http://www.rugift.com/photocameras/mc-35mm-tilt-shift-lens.htm

That can come in a mount for pretty much any camera you can think of. I'm not sure of the quality but it has to be higher than a Lensbaby.

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The best way is to use a view camera with yaw-free movements -- and there are a number of mini view cameras that use 35mm-format camera bodies as their "back". What makes it the best way? The huge image circle of view camera lenses means you can go much farther with the effect than with a dedicated TS lens, and the multitude of movements (independent tilt and swing of both the lensboard and the back) means it's easier to find the geometry you want. At a $2500 entry fee (and you can spend an order of magnitude more quite easily) though, it's probably not what you had in mind.

The other answers here have provided good hardware solutions, but haven't addressed the software issue. You can mimic the effect using something like Alien Skin Bokeh. Unlike the built-in blur options in Photoshop, plugins like Bokeh can perform gradient blurs, simulating the transition from a sharp plane of focus to the completely out-of-focus areas. In PS natively, that would mean slicing the image up into a whole bunch of sections and applying a progressively stronger blur to each segment as it recedes from the plane of focus, then blending the segments. I'm not going to say that the results will be identical to a hardware solution, or even satisfactory, just that there is a software option that might be worth trying (or at least "trialing" -- you don't have to spend a cent if it doesn't do what you want).

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I found this tutorial that explained how to fake it in Photoshop to be very helpful.

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Several others have posted about the DIY tilt shift lens using a plunger and a $10 lens from ebay.

However this website descries a range of other DIY tilt shift lenses that can be tried along with information on the physics.

Finally another option not mentioned if you are not planning on spending thousands on a tilt shift lens is to rent one to try it.

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A cheap way to get the effects of shift (but not tilt) is to use a shorter focal length than required for your intended composition, and frame so that your subject is closer to side opposite of direction where you'd shift a real shift lens. You can then crop the image in post afterwards. The only differences from purely optical solution are:

  • you're losing some of resolution by cropping (but with a modern camera, you have lots to spare);
  • your depth of field will be somewhat deeper than same F-number would have given you at correct focal length (but typical shift applications do not seek for thin depth of field).

Here's an example of perspective correction with kit lens at 18mm:

perspective correction example

Here's an example of shooting a mirror without catching photographer's reflection in it, original image and its final crop (still having third of megapixels in original):

clear mirror, original image

Sigma 8-16mm at 8mm f/8

clear mirror, final crop

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The faking option, has been upgraded in CS6,and is much eaier now; you will find it in the blur menu. Check it out on Youtube

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Yes, you can use a view camera (like Olivo Barbieri) or a tilt-shift lens (like Vincent LaForet) to do tilt movements to create the miniature effect in-camera. You basically tilt up to decrease the FoV by reshaping the DoF so it's no longer perpendicular to the image plane.

But if you can't afford or don't want to use that type of gear, and are going to create the effect in post-processing, here are the things to keep in mind.

  1. Shoot from above. Remember you are faking looking down on some tiny little miniature thing. Folks rarely approach miniatures from eye level, they're usually looking down. So shooting from rooftops, airplanes, or any high-up vantage point is a great opportunity for the toy-miniature effect.

  2. Shoot a subject they make into figurines/toys. The effect tends to psychologically work better with objects that you'd recognize as a toy. Very few people have scale models of famous landscapes. A lot of people have played with a toy car in their lifetimes. Colorful objects will also help, since part of the basic technique is to boost saturation to make objects appear more toylike.

  3. Try to shoot so that depth of field follows top-to-bottom of the frame. This will make it easier to create a simple gradient mask for applying blur to look like the very thin depth of field that results from shooting at very close subject distances. If there's an exceptionally tall object in the scene (say a crane), you may have more complex post-processing to do than a simple gradient--you may have to rely on a depth map instead.

While the miniature effect is often called "tilt-shift" in online articles and tutorials, it's actually only mimicking tilting upwards. Tilting and shifting can actually be used for a variety of other tasks, the most common of which are extending DoF with the Scheimpflug principle with tilt or swing (side-to-side, not top-to-bottom tilt), and keystoning correction and changing the point of view with shift.

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