Tilt-shift: A DIY guide

By Bhautik Joshi
Edited by John Swierzbin

Selective-focus with tilt-shift lenses has been around for many years, but I think its creative potential for both photo and video (beyond miniaturisation!) lies largely untapped. By publishing this tutorial I'm hoping that it gets picked up by those of you with real creative talent, and from there you can take it somewhere completely new.
Have you ever wondered how tilt-shift miniature photography works and why it looks so strangely convincing? Have you ever wanted to have a tilt-shift lens but couldn't afford the hundreds of dollars needed to buy one? Have you ever wanted to take real tilt-shift photos? Then this short introduction to tilt-shift photography and DIY tilt-shift lens building is probably for you.

You might have recently seen photographs and video in which real scenes appear to take on a toy-set like appearance. This is commonly achieved by the creative use of a tilt-shift lens - however, this is only a small part of what these lenses are capable of. The extraordinary level of focus control allows you to precisely pick out subjects with a narrow depth of field both close to and extremely far from the camera. Fortunately, you don't need to spend hundreds (even thousands!) of dollars to have a tilt-shift lens in your camera bag. This tutorial goes over how selective focus effects work and are used, and offers a guide to building several different types of tilt-shift lenses all for much less than US$50.

Click images to embiggen

Tilt-shift miniaturisation examples

Creative use of selective focus

It's even possible to create lenses that will permit you to create tilt-shift miniature videos, like the one below.

Click to play

Tilt-shift miniaturisation in video

In this tutorial, I'm going to go over how tilt-shift photography works, and go over a few introductory designs to put you on the path to DIY tilt-shift lens building. You can get started by looking at how tilt-shift works by clicking here.

DIY tilt-shift lenses covered in this tutorial

I'd highly recommend looking at how tilt-shift works first, but if you'd like to go straight to the DIY part of the tutorial, click here.


I'd like to acknowledge John Swierzbin for all his help and suggestions for getting this work accurate and correct, as well as Briony Joshi and Florian Kainz for all their help with proofreading and suggestions.

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Page contents copyright (c) Bhautik Joshi, 2010. All Rights Reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced without written consent from the author.


1. Introduction
2. How do tilt-shift lenses work?
3. A DIY guide to building a tilt-shift lens
4. DIY tilt-shift lens examples
5. Shooting tips and results
6. Appendix

Like it? Buy the print version!

I've laid out this tutorial as a beautiful 32-page magazine-format (8x11), full colour tutorial and made it available for only $12 on Magcloud!.

Click here to see a preview and purchase

Want to buy a pre-built tilt-shift lens?

The wonderful John Swierzbin has home-made tilt-lenses available for sale - see here for details.

If you like this..

..you might want to also check out the awesome gear at photojojo.
You may also like the other projects, John's homemade lens group on flickr, my inter-blag or my flickr photostream.

Please don't hesitate email me with questions or comments.

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