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A Photographic Love/Hate Relationship, Part 1: Tilt-Shift

October 13, 2010

Photography, like all the arts, goes through trends and phases. Some stay, some die, some benefit the art, and some make it seem gimmicky and cheap. Tilt-shift photography has been around since the 70s (thanks, Wikipedia), but thanks to technology’s now wider use and greater ease and accessibility, tilt-shift has become popular among the more recent photographer-masses. Lensbabies are not costly and can do the trick, and there is even an iPhone app that allows users to take tilt-shift photos digitally, since the iPhone camera lens can, of course, neither tilt nor shift.

When I first saw this type of photography, (in a “FWDFWDFWD THIS IS SO NEAT!” e-mail), it was used to make buildings and cars look like toys. I thought, “Hey, that is kinda cool.” Then I saw tilt-shift everywhere on the Internet, doing the exact same thing. It quickly became a trite trick to my eyes. The photos I have seen are not profound. They do not seem thoughtful. I know it sounds judgmental, but when I see these photos, I can hear a photographer’s voice in my head saying, “Yeah the photo isn’t special, but look! The cars look like toys! Teehee!” I have gotten pretty sick of the trend.

Enter David Burnett. David Burnett is a photojournalist who has shot everything from Jerry Ford to baseball to Bob Marley. He uses big, old cameras with REAL tilt-shift. Might I say, he is awesome. There is a great video on the Photoshelter blog where Burnett shows the interviewer everything he keeps in his camera bag. I highly recommend the video to fellow photographers. It’s worth it to see such cool equipment and to look at the photos he produces with it. Anyway, as I said, he uses tilt-shift, and he does it so well. I appreciate his ability to take this much-used technique and create unique works with it.

Here are some examples of his work:

There are more numerous and better examples on his website that I can’t post here because, of course, they are under copyright by David Burnett. But look at how he uses tilt-shift to take a photo that would be good anyway, but the trick takes the photo to the next level. The photo and the tilt-shift are working for each other. The trick is an essential to the photo. There’s an even more excellent example on his website of a John Kerry rally that I couldn’t find elsewhere. Go check it out.

I also have to give it up for Disney. Although I think the corporation is evil and will one day rule the word alongside Microsoft and Wal-Mart, forcing us to bow down to the Mouse-god and burn Apple products in effigy, Disney made some excellent tilt-shift videos. Yes, it features things looking like toys because they look like toys, but it’s such a unique advertisement. It’s so Disney, too. The parks have a magical, unreal feel to them, and the videos portray that. I also just like the parks. They make me feel like I’m seven, which is great. The portion of the video with the Main Street parade is especially neat, so look out for that. Here it is, Magic Kingdom:

See? Isn’t this better than “Look, it’s a wittle itty bitty bwilding!” Come on, fellow photographers! I’ve seen enough playing around. Time to use this technology to take great photos!


One Comment leave one →
  1. Joseph permalink
    October 13, 2010 10:52 am

    Thanks for this Ames. It’s easy to fall into thinking everything is passe that has been done before. But isn’t it cool when you discover it for the first time? You’re right, it’s like being seven again. And what’s wrong with that???
    Of course it’s important to develop a discriminating artistic palate. That comes naturally with time, study and interest. But I would argue that it’s also important to NOT become so cool for school that we can’t appreciate someone’s good effort; even if it has been done before.
    Nice work!

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