Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Why do tilt shift images look miniature?

My original image taken on the Isle of Staffa

With tilt shift effect added

Here is my rather poor example of a trend which has been around for a while. We have all seen them, the amazing pictures which seem to show some model or minature version of our world, complete with figures and scenes of everyday life. Like taken of the worlds most complex model village. They are created using an effect called tilt shift or selective focus, and use depth of field to give the impression of a miniature scene. The miniature effect caused by blurring elements of the fore ground and /or background.

Tilt shift used to be a specialist area of photography, primarily used by architectural photographers. They used it to ensure the vertical lines of a tall building did not converge and thus reduced the effect of perspective. Tilt shift cameras allowed the photographer to alter the alignment of the lenses and the film plane. The tilt shift miniaturisation effect we see today was only rarely captured with such cameras as the primary aim was to try and get everything into focus rather than to introduce discrepancies.

The advent of digital photography and digital manipulation has made it easy to achieve this depth of field or selective focus technique. The effect is achievable in many iPhone apps and as dedicated filters in many digital cameras.

From Sharenator

What I want to know why does tilt shift give us the impression of a miniature world, like looking down on a model railway?

I believe it is a learnt response to an artefact of photography. Before photography, most people were not aware of the notion of depth of field, of items being in and out of focus. When we view the world we tend to see everything in focus. That is, the central fovea the small area which we use for viewing the world in detail and is colour is in focus. If we are aware that another area is out of focused or blurred as soon as we look over to check it too becomes focused. The way we see the world and construct a coherent image is by rapid eye movements or saccadic which allow us to sample many  areas of the scene.

What we see in tilt shift image is a totality of a 3 dimensional view as presented as on a 2 dimensional plane. The depth of field and selective focus are artefacts of the way a camera lens can only bring into focus a portion of the image. It is not a natural phenomena that we experience through our eyes. We have become conditioned by seeing photographic images to interpret it as a realistic representation of the real world.

To support the case that it is not natural, one only has to look at paintings. I can think of no painting from the period before the advent of photography which exhibits this form of depth of field – please advise me if I am wrong. If it were natural, then one would expect the hyper observant renaissance artists to have attempted to replicate it.

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