I've been experimenting with a 9-stop, ND400, neutral density filter. It was very windy yesterday and here's a shot I took out my bathroom window.

enter image description here

This was a 1 minute exposure at f22. ISO 100, 24mm lens on a Canon crop body. I got the visual effect I wanted, the blurred trees with the sharp buildings. But it looks like miniature model! I certainly didn't want that.

I first thought it might be that the eye is fooled by the blurred trees in front of and behind the buildings, but the building in the distance is also sharp.

So I'm curious, does anyone know why this happens and just as importantly, how to make it not happen? I'm not at all fond of the look.

  • \$\begingroup\$ That's not tilt-shift, it's a long exposure on a windy day. \$\endgroup\$
    – Fake Name
    Commented Jun 4, 2012 at 8:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ uhhh, yes, it is! That's the whole point. That's why it has "tilt-shift" in scare quotes in the title. It has the effect of a tilt-shift lens without the tilt-shift lens! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 4, 2012 at 10:17

3 Answers 3


The picture appearance is as would be expected for the camera and ND settings.

Based on your analysis of what you feel is 'wrong" with the shot and other comments, what you want changed is the "pseudo thin DOF effect". This occurs due to motion blurring of trees ahead of and behind an object which is in focus PLUS somewhat 'sharp' objects in the background.

An 'improved' result which may or may not suit is to increases aperture to reduce true depth of field and to bring the focus point much closer to the camera so that the building to the left is towards the rear of the field of focus and just starting to 'blur'. The far distant buildings will then be wholly defocused.

You may be able to get this reduced depth of field with f22 but probably not. Increasing aperture from f22 will mean your ND filter does not have enough attenutaion, but you can just reduce exposure time accordingly. As you are using 1 minute exposure you can reduce exposure time substantially and still get near total blurring of foliage due to wind motion. eg changing from f/22 to f/11 will require an exposure reduction of (22/11)^2 = 4:1 = 15 seconds = still fully blurred foliage. Even at f/8 you'd need 7.5 seconds and would still expect OK blurring of foliage. I'd expect you could probably reduce DOF enough as above at f/8 so that the middle buildings were towards the rear of the true DOF.

Whatever you do is going to be a compromise as you are attempting to adjust the "reality" that the camera sees. A true partial solution is to use a true tilt shift type arrangement to somewhat undo the effect, but motion blurring are liable to always be perceived by the brain as DOF effects, or you can 'cheat' with multiple images and/or post processing.


I think your first thought is correct. The "tilt/shift" (really just tilt in most cases) miniature model look is mostly to do with extremely shallow depth of field. In this case the most interesting building (to my eye) is the one in the bottom left which has blurred trees in front and behind giving the impression of very shallow depth of field.

The other buildings are sharp, but they only partially break the effect if you allow your eye to wander around the frame.

The other things often associated with miniature models are high saturation and contrast. Whilst this photo doesn't look overly saturated or contrasty, the effect of the highly detailed red/orange roof against the green trees may be contributing to the look a little too.


I believe part of the issue is the pseudo-thin DOF effect caused by the motion of the trees. The classic "miniature" effect is achieved by having a very thin DOF. Tilt/shift lenses are often used to simulate this effect at macro-scale because of their unique ability to shrink DOF without requiring extremely expensive f/0.7 lenses or extremely close subject distance.

DOF is ultimately a blurring effect, as is motion. The motion of the trees in the foreground and background is simulating a thinner depth of field that does not actually exist (as indicated by how sharp the lower branches and foliage of the background trees are.) If blurred trees was part of your goal, then due to the fact that people are generally conditioned these days to think "miniature" when they perceive thin DOF, your kind of stuck with a pseudo-miniature effect. If you eliminate the blur in the trees, particularly the foreground tree, then the effect should lessen or disappear.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I think the key here is not getting too hung up on the "tilt-shift" part of the question. The "miniature" part is what's going on and you nailed it: thin DOF (or something that looks like thin DOF) is the key. That can be achieved with tilt-shift, but it's not the only way. In this particular case, the appearance of shallow DOF is created by movement of the trees during the long exposure. \$\endgroup\$
    – djangodude
    Commented Jun 4, 2012 at 15:07

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