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Why miniature photography effect looks miniature... By Jeff Dow
It's all about focus and vantage point. When shooting big scenes such as landscapes and or cityscapes (that are real), pretty much everything is very far away from the camera lens so when you focus on the scene, everything is in focus.
In other words, if you focus on a building 200 feet away, the buildings 100 feet away and the buildings 500 feet away will all be in focus. However when shooting an actual miniature toy scene such as a train set, when you use a macro lens and you are focusing on something 12 inches away, the other parts of the scene that are 8 inches away and 16 inches away for example will be out of focus. Therefore a very shallow depth of field (minimal focus area) gives the viewer a feeling of being very close rather than being very far away. This gives the miniature effect!
Another aspect of making real scenes look miniature is a high camera angle. This is of course all phycological based on familiarity. Normally when shooting a city or a landscape we are standing on the ground and looking straight across the horizon and/or even looking up. When shooting a toy train set of a fake miniature scene, the camera angle is naturally high looking down. There is a very distinct ‘’trick’’ however in achieving this shallow depth of field. By using a tilt/shift lens you can slant the focal plane thus making the top and bottom out of focus, creating the miniature effect you see in this feature Landscape photo.
The last way to also maximize the effect of miniature is to shoot your scene under overcast skies. The feature Landscape photo of the neighborhood was shot during sunny skies but the effect of miniature is still apparent. The airport scene below however has soft light, The reason for shooting under cloudy conditions is to make the scene look like it was shot in a studio or indoor with a soft box lighting system. In other words, when shooting a toy miniature scene one might most likely be indoors so minimizing the effect of ‘’sunlight’’ is helpful in making a real scene look like a toy scene.
Conversely, when shooting an actual toy miniature model and trying to make it look real, use can actually use all the exact ‘’opposite'' rules. Bring the toy model outside in the sun and place the toy scene on an elevated surface such as a table or saw horse. Place your camera lens as low as possible as if you were a small person in the toy scene. Then do everything possible to get the entire scene in focus. By using f.22 aperture or similar will help increase your depth of field (overall focus). Even try pointing the camera slightly up to enhance the keystone effect. Try to also get the real sky in the background avoiding tress and other massive buildings.