Tilt-Shift Focus Technique: The miniature effect used in videos
Tricking your audience into representing reality as a miniature has been used by a few video producers with great effect. The idea is to photograph a scene as if it was seen from a magnifying glass or using a macro lens to investigate something extremely small. By blurring the foreground and background of a scene, and leaving elements of a scene in sharp focus in the middle of the frame, the audience is visually trumped. The optical illusion is simple: we’re looking at a normal scene with the visual attributes of a macro lens. Cars, buildings and persons look like toys from a model set. As a result it looks surreal, almost artificial.
This miniature scene created optically can be further enhanced if taking your shot from a high angle, looking down at a scene, i.e. the same way we would study ants at work by observing them from above. Most documentaries using macro photography undergo the same process; physically it is logical to see from a vantage point, but by looking and focusing at the very small, we also take on the perspective of a giant. The relation between depth of field, detail, angle and scale induces the brain into miniature trickery.
Historically, video producers have taken inspiration from photographers using proper tilt focusing glass, such as Naoki Hono’s photo (above), whereby the focusing plane can be physically titlted and shifted optically within the lens itself. Nowadays , blurring foreground and background, so often associated with shallow depth of field, can easily be achieved through a post-production process. In 2006, Thom Yorke’s Harrowdown Hill, directed by Chel White is often credited with being the first video using tilt-shift technique.
Finally, fast motion or timelapse photography used in conjunction with this creative focusing technique, will add to the sense of altered reality. The miniature scene now looks as if it was a stop-motion animation. Everything that’s associated with photographing a realistic scene or action, has been stripped away by modifying natural motion. This is particularly fascinating with City of Samba, an incredible tilt-shift film by Keith Loutit and Jarbas Agnelli. This is a clever, beautifully composed, and fascinating video loveletter to Rio de Janeiro (which you can view at your pleasure by pressing on the hyperlink).