• Daniel Austin
  • 17
  • May
  • 09
This entry is part 9 of 40 in the series The (d)SP0T

Most of us have seen “miniature” photos online here and there.  These are photos of life sized things, but for some reason they appear to look miniature.  For those of you who have not seen these, here is one I took by the beach in San Francisco.


Traditionally this has been done optically at the time of photographing, and as a photographer this is how I do it, but now days there are applications that mimic this effect.[1]  You can even get an app for your iPhone that does this type of thing.  These apps allow you to do a poor job, but if you know what’s up, you can do a good job.


I once showed the above photograph to my friend Sadek.  He asked me a really good question, “why do I think that it looks miniature?”  The answer to this question is the difference between good miniature looking photos and bad ones, whether they’re done with a camera lens or with an application.

Miniature looking photos are an optical illusion.  You must create this optical illusion well in order to trick the viewer into thinking your subject is tiny.  Adding blur anywhere you like simply does not work, you just end up with a blurry photograph.


The important thing to know in order to succeed is what a real miniature thing looks like.  The perspective is usually a downward angle since we look down to see these tiny things.  The subject has crisp focus on one area, the depth-of-field is narrow, and the subject tends to rise from the bottom half of the photo in order to be framed correctly.

In order to take a good mini you need to recreate these aspects, thus creating the optical illusion that the large thing is actually small.  Honestly, if it weren’t for all the complex mind numbing physics behind it, it really would be just that simple.

[1]  Photo zealots will talk up and down about how this effect should only be done with a tilt-shift lens and will curse anybody who doesn’t use a really expensive lens but instead takes the cheap shortcut.  Those people say that you don’t really get the same effect when you do this in post-production, at development time.  That’s not entirely true though because you can do the same photoshop trick in development time with film by tilting the surface you are exposing during development.  So really, the new photoshop tricks can be done in the dark room, it’s just not the exact same trick and thus produces something slightly different.  Simply put in film photographer terms, tilting the lens during photographing is not the same as tilting the photo paper during development.

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