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How to Shrink Cosmic Bodies into Virtual Scale Miniatures

Monday, June 2nd, 2014
Horsehead Nebula  Original image & credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA). Assembly and processing by Robert Gendler. http://www.robgendlerastropics.com/HH-HST-ESO.html

Horsehead Nebula Original image & credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA). Assembly and processing by Robert Gendler. http://www.robgendlerastropics.com/HH-HST-ESO.html

Galactic structures a billion, billion miles wide look like squirts of food coloring into a bowl of water with these tilt-shift photos.

Typically used for architectural purposes, tilt-shift (or perception-control) lenses move the plane of focus from being parallel to the cameras’s sensor or film, and instead places it at an angle by physically tilting the lens itself.

When applied to a landscape, the photographer can put a long, sweeping area into focus.

But when used the opposite way, the focal plane narrows down into a thin band, horizontally spanning one part of the sensor. The unfocused top and bottom part of the photo are thrown out of focus. It’s a similar look to that of a macro photo, when something small is taken at close proximity and is only in focus in a narrow plane, because of the way lenses tend to work (especially those left at wide apertures). And while the tilt-shift lenses are pricey, a similar result can be created with simple photoshop or smartphone app filters.

Pencil Nebula
Original image & credit: ESO http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1236a/

We’ve trained our our eyes and brain with these types of photos to the point that tilt-shifted images of large items, especially those taken from above at an angle, appear as though they are a macro photo of a small image. When done really well, the item shrinks from humungous size to that of a model miniature.

These shots of some of the most famous cosmic bodies — Horsehead Nebula, Andromeda, etc — made to look like something you could reach out and wrap your hand around rather than something that spans lightyears of distance, using a faux tilt-shift effect in Photoshop. They come courtesy Imgur user ScienceLlama, and are some of my favorites yet, although I think the top honor still remains with the tilt-shift video below.

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