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Shrinking The Real World in Photography: Tilting and Shifting

written by: Zoe Van-de-Velde•edited by: William Springer•updated: 5/28/2011

Making the world smaller is the guiding principle of this type of photography. If you have ever wanted to shrink your world to the size of a toy then you can discover here how to do this with a perspective control lens.

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    What is Tilt Shift Photography?

    This kind of photography will shrink the real world down to make it look like a miniature of itself. It is created using a tilt/shift or perspective control lens and has become popular among digital photographers through the work of Vincent Laforet and Bryan Solarski. Both of these New York based photographers have taken images of famous landmarks around the world and created small worlds, shrinking people and places down to the size of toys.

    To understand how tilt-shift photography it is necessary to have a basic grasp of the Scheimpflug principle. Captain Theodore Schiempflug was an officer in the Austrian army who in 1904 created a method and apparatus to correct perspective distortion in aerial photography. The Scheimpflug principle is based on a geometric rule that Harold Merklinger states; “describes the orientation of the plane of focus of an optical system (such as a camera) when the lens plane is not parallel to the image plane." The basic idea here is that the small depth of field for a tilt-shift lens becomes a wedge shape which broadens as it moves away from the camera lens. With an ordinary camera lens the depth of field is a rectangular shape; when using a tilt-shift lens it creates a conical shape that changes the perspective.

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    Vincent Laforet and his small worlds

    Vincent Laforet, born 1975, is a photographer who began as a photojournalist working for the New York Times. Laforet became the youngest staff photographer for the New York Times at the age of 25 and he won a Pulitzer Prize for feature photography. In 2005 Laforet was named by American Photo as one of the 100 most influential people working in photography. One of the reasons that Laforet has become so influential is his pioneering work using tilt-shift images and aerial photography. His images that create these miniature worlds include beaches, famous landmarks, sports stadiums and sporting events around the world. Laforet creates stunning perspectives not just using the tilt-shift photography but with aerial photographs and using an ordinary DSLR. His blog, where he where he discusses new innovations in photography, attracts more than three million visitors a year.

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    How to create tilt-shift images

    Creating your own tilt-shift images can be an expensive business. The tilt-shift lenses that are available cost between $1,300 and $5,000 (Prices as of May 2011). This is obviously out of the reach of most people; there is an alternative in the Lensbaby which will set you back around $250 (prices as of May 2011). This lens will not function exactly as a high end tilt shift lens but will allow you to create photographers that emulate the style and give you a feel of how the tilt-shift works. To use a tilt-shift lens is actually fairly easy, even though how it actually works is quite complex. When you look through the viewfinder you will be able to see the changes in perspective easily as you adjust the lens. The best way to start is to focus into the distance and then slowly adjust the lens tilt so the plane of focus is perpendicular to the lens axis. When the background comes back into focus again you are ready to shoot. This kind of photography will take practice to really master but the more you experiment the more interesting and creative your pictures will become.

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    References

    Cambridge In Colour: http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/tilt-shift-lenses2.htm

    Scheimpflug Principle: http://scheimpflug-principle.co.tv/

    Trenholm: Technical Books on Photography by Harold M. Merklinger: http://www.trenholm.org/hmmerk/#SR

    Media Dump: Little World – Amazing Tilt-Shift Photography: http://www.mediadump.com/hosted-id95-little-world-amazing-tilt-shift-photography.html

    Laforet Visuals: http://www.laforetvisuals.com/

    Vincent Laforet Blog: http://blog.vincentlaforet.com/

    Lensbaby: Tilt-Transformer: http://www.lensbaby.com/tilt-transformer.php

    Shutterbug: Tilt Shift Lenses, Tilting at Windmills: http://www.shutterbug.net/equipmentreviews/lenses/0801sb_tilt/