Make almost anything look miniature with a tilt-shift effect in Photoshop! Learn what a tilt-shift effect is, what images work best for it, and how to create the effect using Smart Objects and the Blur Gallery.
The term tilt-shift comes from a type of a lens that allows you to shift and tilt the optics in relation to the camera sensor.
Shift gives you the ability to simulate changing the camera’s position to get more in frame without having to shoot at an angle. Let’s say you wanted to capture a tall building from ground level. If you shoot the building straight-on, you won’t be able to capture the entire structure–the top will get cut off. You can change the angle of the camera, shooting up to capture the top of the building, but this will introduce perspective distortion into the image. The lines of the building will seem to converge as they approach the top of the frame.
Using a shift lens, you can simulate changing the camera’s position. Shifting up, you can capture the top of the building while avoiding unwanted perspective distortion.
Normally, a camera’s sensor plane and its lens plane are parallel. This means that if you focus on a subject that’s 10 feet away, everything 10 feet away from the sensor will be sharp and in focus.
The tilt function of a tilt-shift lens allows you to change the angle of the lens while the sensor remains in its normal position. This can dramatically change the focus plane of an image, allowing you to get objects at different distances in focus. For example, this feature is popular among landscape photographers as it allows them to get much more in focus when capturing a scene with important foreground and background elements.
Not only does tilt allow you to get more in focus, it also can change the shape of depth of field for creative effect. This is what we’ll be replicating in Photoshop.
Since we’ll be applying an effect that’s normally created using a camera and lens, we need to be careful to choose the right image to make sure the tilt-shift looks photorealistic. Here’s three things to look for when choosing an image for this effect:
1.) Use an image that’s shot from a high-angle looking down. This will give you more depth-of-field to play with as you adjust the effect.
2.) Use an image that has details in the middle, top, and bottom of the frame. This will make the depth-of-field effect easier for the viewer to see.
3.) Use an image where the sides of the frame are clear. Objects that fill up the left and right sides of the frame can ruin the illusion of depth-of-field.
Creating a Tilt-Shift Effect
This is where the fun begins! Fortunately, this effect is easy to apply once you’ve found the perfect image.
Once your photo is loaded into Photoshop, right-click on the Layer and select Convert to Smart Object. Doing this allows us to apply the Tilt-Shift filter, make changes to it any time, or remove the effect completely without damaging the original photo.
Once the Smart Object has been created, go to the Filter menu, go down to Blur Gallery, and select the Tilt-Shift option. A preview window will open with a number of options to customize the effect.
In the preview portion, you can reposition the area you want in focus and adjust the falloff of the blur effect. The panel on the right side has a number of options that you can use to further customize the tilt-shift look. No matter what changes you make, we recommend adding a bit of noise to the effect. This helps integrate the tilt-shift into the scene and makes it all appear as if it came straight out of camera.