Fantastic photography of Michael Paul Smith


You will learn something surprising about this photo by Michael Paul Smith after the jump.



These photos are from Michael Paul Smith's model photography on Flickr.

What started out as an exercise in model building and photography, ended up as a dream-like reconstruction of the town I grew up in. It's not an exact recreation, but it does capture the mood of my memories.

And like a dream, many of the buildings show up in different configurations throughout the photos. Or sometimes, the buildings stay put and the backgrounds change.


It's the oldest trick in the special effects book: line up a model with an appropriate background and shoot.

The buildings are 1/24th scale [ or 1/2 inch equals a foot ]. They are constructed of Gator board, styrene plastic, Sintra [ a light flexible plastic that can be carved, and painted ] plus numerous found objects; such as jewelery pieces, finishing washers and printed material.

Fantastic miniature photography of Michael Paul Smith (Via Fogonazos)


  1. I didn’t need to go to the jump to see that this was model photography. It’s beautiful but it is not a trick of any sort.

  2. I noticed the top picture was a model almost immediately (before I scrolled down to the middle one.) I can’t tell why, though. Something about that first car is off somehow.

    (Not to be a hater. It’s still pretty cool. That next picture is priceless.)

  3. I thought “there’s definitely something about the depth-of-field here.. The trees are faaar away, or he’s got a magical off-plane-bokeh camera” :)

    Excellent work though. Seconded on LOLing the middle shot.


  4. I noticed it was model photography, but mostly because I was told that there was “something surprising” about it. Certainly good enough to fool my eye on a casual glance.

    That said? I love it all the more for its being models. This isn’t heading towards the realm of art, it is art….and a wonderful example too.

  5. I guessed it was a model shot, not that that takes away from the artistry. Something about the detail of the cars triggered memories of other shoots using models.

    Another giveaway (and it’s not limited to models; film is where it’s most noticeable) was the snow. No effect that I’ve seen can make convincing road snow. Maybe it’s living in a cold climate that sets off my uncanny snowy valley radar.

  6. I too noticed something about the first photo – I figured it was either a very good model shot or a very good tilt-shift shot. Either way it is definitely a good shot – I like the composition and colour rendition of it.

    I think the big give-away is the blurring of the tree relative to the background cars and billboard.

  7. The big giveaway for me was the distortion of the wide angle lens. It’s obvious on the nearest car.

      1. Seriously? Look how much larger the rear of the car appears than the front. That’s the wide-angle distortion. It’s not disfiguring or anything, but it is apparent.

  8. Tire tracks in the snow, but no obvious drivers.

    I think the first image unconsciously suggests something’s wrong since most of us who drive instinctively look at the other cars’ drivers to discern intent.

    1. That’s not a LOL, that’s a ROFL!

      Like a lot of other people, I had this vague feeling that something was “off” with the first photo-it seemed unreal in some way-but I couldn’t put my finger on it. The second photo clears it up.

  9. I was wondering if it was a marvelously realistic model, or a subtle use of a tilt-shift lens to shorten the depth of focus on a real scene just enough to make you wonder…

    Many tilt-shift photos use the effect heavily enough that they really really look like models. It’s lovely how lifelike these model photos look.

  10. I sensed that the image here was a model, but if I’d stumbled across his Flickr set without being forewarned I wouldn’t have seen anything at all weird about the thumbnails. Remarkable.

  11. Perspective/detail/depth-of-focus feels a bit off, which made me suspect model, but it’s a nice job.

    It helps that I’ve used that trick myself. I know someone who has G-gauge model trains (“garden” gauge, the big ones where you really need to set up the track outdoors to give them enough space to run), and I found that by elevating the track slightly and shooting lying down, I could get line things up nicely and get surprisingly convincing video of the train passing in front of houses/trees/etc in the background. Helped by the fact that the train was passing close to the lens so its apparent speed was scaled up as well, hiding any details that might have given it away.

    Of course movies have been relying on “hanging miniatures” and similar tricks for a very long time (though digital compositing is approaching the same price/effectiveness range). And anyone who has done the “holding up the building” or similar perspective tricks with a still camera knows it’s possible.

    The art comes in crafting the scene well — good models, good arrangement of them, good background, consistent lighting … and putting that all together to craft a result which is not just a successful illusion, but visually interesting as a picture.

    After all, almost any picture is an illusion to some degree. The camera *always* lies; the trick is making the lies either not matter or add up to a new truth.

  12. Not only did I know it was a model, I immediately had a sense that he was shooting with a Sony camera and that he was near a chain-link fence. Also, I happen to know that license plate number was never registered to a Belair.

  13. To add another layer to the story, Michael has made many of his pictures available for re-editing as for a collaborative photo project called “Elgin Park.” The photos are the background for a fictional mid-century town where re-creationists and fans of vintage clothing can insert themselves.

  14. It doesn’t look real because the tires are obviously not experiencing the weight of a real car. You would normally be able to perceive the car’s weight by the squishedness of the tires on the road, especially in cold weather (where the tire pressure would be less than that in hot conditions).

  15. Sorry to be a negative nancy, but there must be at least some degree of photoshoppery at play here… The cars are in pretty much true-to-life colour, but the sign in the background is heavily desaturated to give it that old-timey feel…. Unless his camera has an option for “background objects appear in black and white while foreground objects are in full colour” I’ve gotta point out that there’s at least *some* retouching going on here.

  16. Hah. I must admit it totally got me. mostly because I didnt examine the first pic too closely, just glanced at it and clicked through. What appeared to be a giant sinister floating head briefly sent my mind spinning. :)

  17. I figured they were models because they were too clean, no road dirt on the fenders, even the white walls were clean. You know how the underside of your car looks after driving in the show, with big dirty snow clods falling off the wheelwells. Great shot though, I’ve always wanted to try that with my own models.

  18. It’s obviously a model. Look how huge his head is compared with the rest of the scene in the 2nd photo!!

  19. Its nice – shows of a time when things were slower by choice.
    Nice job – for all those pointing out that they could tell because of some technical reason…how about just enjoying it, and give credit where credit is due.

    If he was asking how he could make it better, or something – then it makes sense to call things out.

    Michael keep doing what you are doing – you are lucky you get to do what makes you happy!

  20. I dont understand any of this. It is obviously fake for many reasons:
    1. There is no slush, no wet spots, no dirt on the road.
    2. The snow on the cars is not real; there is no streaking, no melting, no dirt.
    3. There are no drivers in the cars.
    4. Even if there were drivers, they do not leave such spacing (too close and too regular) between cars, especially for winter conditions.
    5. The tires do not exhibit any weight from the cars.
    6. The tires and wheelwells are much too clean for driving in winter conditions.
    7. That huge head is obviously a model! Real humans do not have such perfect beards (in terms of colour and shape).

    There is obvious photoshop work here:
    1. The colours have been muted in the first photo (compare the shades on the billboard to photo 2).
    2. There is an attempt to insert a driver by means of blurry shading.
    3. The telegraph pole to the right of the billboard (visible in the other photos) has been deleted/moved.

    Need I go on?

    1. My, how talented and perceptive you are. I can only dream of having your abilities and perceptions. I hope you will post some of your own work for us to view….no doubt it will put this to shame.

  21. what do you mean “heading towards the realm of art”

    it is art, plain and simple. and its beautiful. whimsical, nostalgic and elegant. i love it.

  22. Ah funny how what was once commerce becomes art. Until photoshop this type of work was common in commercial photography. I really miss it. The craftsmanship and attention to detail was great. Nice job.

  23. @sndr: Nice work- I get a very “Robert Adams meets Gregory Crewdson and Gary Winnogrand to go take pictures of cars” read from it. Really well done!

  24. I was thinking that there were too many white walls in the photo for it to be real? I know how much they cost and they are really expensive, even back then. Also the patina on the model t pick up is not coorect for the age progression simulation represented here. If there were a model t pick up in a street sceene such as this it would certainly not have been garaged at this time and would not have kept its paint that good. I have done paint analysis on many antique cars as well as model cars and I could see that this was a model set up before I looked at the next photo. Also the folding card table in the last picture is not correct for the model year of that paint brush resting on the Northeast corner of the table. And dont get me started on that cardboard box on the ground!

    Seriously thats a cool picture. Can anyone tell that I dont have much to do at work today but mock people that pick apart cool pictures for its flaws.

  25. The giant head is just one of those kitschy diners similar to the ones shaped like giant dogs and shoes or whatever from the 1930s. I wonder how good the chili is in there.

  26. I couldn’t tell it was a model. My first impulse was that, because the photo is in color, and because all the cars look so new and well-kept, that it must have something to do with a car show of some kind. Seeing Smith’s head popping out of the background was a hilarious revelation.

    His work is really good; I hope he keeps at it.

  27. these cars are Danbury Mint models..I recognize them from catalogs I receive.. I also have a number of these models. you can access at to view them.. they change colors and available cars every year or so..I wonder if he works for them, as to have such a full selection..

  28. I didn’t notice in the first picture. I was too busy looking at the model of the 1958 Edsel station wagon. There were not ever many on the road. Who would have thought a model of one ever existed.

  29. There are many artists working in this vein, however, I think the best example is Paolo Ventura, his photographs are truly unique. Check him out.He shows with Hasted Hunt kreatuler in NYC.

  30. To say that “something” is off and to not be able to articulate exactly what it is is poor grading. How can anyone benefit from that? I have made my fair share of models and know that if I am going to critique someone else’s work, 1) I wouldn’t do it unless asked specifically to, and 2) I would proceed with utmost respect. Some of the responders here have obviously never put forth the effort that man has, so you have no idea what you are talking about. If you haven’t even attempted this kind of work, you should keep your opinions to yourself.
    PS nice work.

  31. Michael, you have achieved the beauty and realism that all model builders strive for but few can come close to. Lighting and depth of field are the most important and difficult to master in photos such as these. After seeing the numerous scenes you’ve created in your online slideshow, I can personally say you have mastered both to a level of beauty beyond anything I ever thought was possible.
    Thank you for sharing these with us all.
    Green with envy.

  32. Michael, I just want to tell you how amazing I think your work is. I love the cars, almost makes me want to collect them, but I already have a collection of miniature furniture. Expensive collectors furniture. I was in awe of you old looking houses and am looking for a plan that I can purchase to build myself one. I cannot find one anywhere. I dont want a cheap one from Michaels, or Hobby Lobby, I want to build my own that is a replica of an old home. Can you help me by suggesting something. I know I would never be able to afford to pay someone to build one for me, and this is for my grandaughter to have one day. I have been collecting since I was a little girl, and I am now a big girl of 58. Can you please help me. thank you so much. Becky

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