Photoshopping Tilt Shift

By Ash Davies
May 27, 2009 from Graphic Design,Photo Editing,Photo Editing


Tilt Shift Photography is the latest ‘big thing’ in the photo world. It uses a very shallow Depth of Field to transform a scene into a tiny toy from a tiny world. It may only be in my eyes, but lately it’s popping up all over the place and is showing some truly spectacular and eye catching results. However, Tilt Shift Photography is very difficult to create in camera. It involves a special lens and of course a lot of money to buy it. Here then is a guide for all you Photoshop owners so that you can create the incredible effect on your own photos with a few simple steps.


Before we begin…

This guide is also in a video.


Step 1: Choosing the Right Photo.

This is a very important part of the overall process. Some photos simply don’t work with the applied effect. To create the best Tilt Shift photo possible you need to remember that miniature models are viewed from above. Thus you need a photo overlooking something from a reasonably high angle. It doesn’t need to be hundreds of meters up viewing a whole city though. Even a single street could work nicely. Just make sure you’re high up and everything should function smoothly.

This is the picture I’ll be using. Left to it’s own devices it’s nothing special. The high angle and the cars buzzing around though make it the perfect photo to Tilt-Shiftize.


Overlooking part of Johannesburg, South Africa. My thanks goes to Paul Williamson (a friend of mine) for letting me use this photo. It really is perfect for the job.


Step 2: Quick-Mask It.

This is a fairly simple part. Just click the little icon and you’ll be in Quick Mask Mode.


Enter Quick Mask Mode


Step 3: Choose your Gradient.

For this you’ll need to use the reflected gradient (the 4th gradient icon from the left). This will create your depth of field effect so that there is one main focal point and everything else in the foreground or background is blurred.


This will create your Depth of Field effect.


Step 4: Draw a Line.

Start your line from your main point of focus (that being the object you want most to look like a toy) and then draw down. The start point will be the object in view and the end point will be where the transition from clear to blurry is complete. You’ll need to experiment with the length of the gradient because this is the make or break aspect of your final image. In my image my central point of focus was the car. I drew the gradient roughly to the bottom of the image because this created the best effect in my opinion.


Experiment with this step. It can make or break your image.


Step 5: It’s all gone red!

You’re in the right direction. This red section just shows you the gradient you drew before and won’t appear on the final image. If you don’t like the length or think it could be better, just draw your line again.


If it isn’t red then make sure you’re still in quick mask mode.


Step 6: Exit Quick Mask Mode.

This is pretty simple. Just click the Quick Mask button again to exit the mode (or Q if you like using shortcuts). Your image should now change from being red to having the top and bottom section surrounded by ‘marching ants’. The main point of focus shouldn’t be selected.


The parts selected will be blurred out completely, gradually becoming clear as they near your focal point.


Step 7: Open Lens Blur.

You’ll find it in Filters – Blur. Selecting this will bring up the interface where you can create your blur and thus your tilt shift.


Click it.


Step 8: Fiddle.

Now your Tilt Shift will start taking shape. Fiddling is all you can really do here. There’s no right or wrong answer because it all depends on your specific image. To change the intensity of the lens blur you’ll need to play with the ‘radius’ bar. In my case I’ve gone for 25. This level of blur I felt pulled of the tilt shift effect nicely and still looked rather natural. Too much and the background would be too blurred and have no real place in the image. Push ‘ok’ when you’re happy with your lens blur.


Play around here until it looks right in your eyes.


Step 9: Get rid of the Marching Ants.

To do this simply push Control+D, or for mac users push Command+D. If you don’t do this then any further edits will only occur in the selected region.


Simple enough. It isn’t a real step but some people might miss it otherwise and then their photo would be ruined.


Step 10: Open the Hue/Saturation option.

Selecting Hue/Saturation will open up a small menu that gives you quick and easy control over the colours of your image.


Press Control+U or Command+U if you’re in a hurry.


Step 11: Increase your Saturation.

A toy world always has much simpler, brighter and more vibrant colours. Increasing the saturation will change the colours to make the objects look more like plastic. Don’t do it too much though or it will just look too fake. The level once again is up to you and unique to your photo.


Once again, determine your amount based on what you think looks good.


Step 12: Tweak your Image.

This is pretty much the final step. All thats left to do is whatever you think can make the image look better. Advanced photoshop users might like to adjust the levels (control/command+L). Making the dark points darker can have quite a nice effect.
In my case, I fiddled with the levels and also cropped the photo to get rid of part of the sky. I felt there was too much sky which tampered with the illusion of this being a toy world.



Here’s what I ended up with…


Tilt Shift Town.

I’m very happy with how mine turned out.
If you’ve got your own you’d like to share then feel free to post a link in a comment.

  • Rav

    This was really informative,
    i always wanted to know how to do this,
    and you told it like it is,


  • Ash Davies

    Glad i could help Rav.
    Feel free to share your tilt shift creations

  • Lanz

    That’s cool…
    i never that kind of effect is so simple to do…
    Thanks for the info.

  • brian

    Tried this with an aerial view from a plane during takeoff:

    Download the final image here:

  • brian
  • Ash Davies

    Wow that’s excellent.
    Thanks for sharing :)

  • Jasmine126

    thats so cool!
    its just like a toy

  • Laurence

    wow! that is so cool! I’m really glad I found this page showing me how to do this. I never knew it was so simple and fun. Oh and the photo of the airport? SWEET! Thanks!

  • Laurence

    That photograph is so cool! so awesome! nice one!

  • Ash Davies

    Glad I could help Laurence :)

  • Rachel

    So cool! I love this. Thanks so much.

  • Tim Russell

    This is a great tutorial, posted some pics here:

    What I don’t really get is how best to draw the gradient line in step 4, as this effect seems to me to be pretty random. I am a complete Photoshop novice though, so maybe I’m just being stupid – anyone got any more advice on this?

  • jokoabie

    helpfull tut! thanks Bro

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  • Veronica

    thank you so much! are awesome! this really turn out an amazing picture!, thanks for sharing it.

  • Cristina Sturm

    Hey! I’ve seen this effect too, on the TV and etc, i always liked this, thanks for sharing this tutorial! I’ve made my toy too, here is the link:

    Hope you like it. :]

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  • ClipThis

    Quick and easy tutorial. I’ll have to find a good image on my own to try it on. Thanks for sharing!

    Quality Clipping Paths from Professional Designers

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  • Alessio

    Easy tut for a cool effect!
    Well done.

    Thank you

  • Mary

    Thanks so much for this! Can’t wait to test it out. Such a simple tutorial for such a neat effect.

  • Program Telewizyjny

    Great article once again. Thanks a lot!

  • Christian

    Hey Guys.

    During the 4th. and 5th. step (creation of the depth of field effect), I seem to completely reverse my gradient compared to the tutorial. The settings are completely the same, but just can’t seem to figure it out.

    Could anyone please help me? Thank you in advance.

  • Idaybr

    When you select the Reflected Gradiant button also make sure you have the tick on the Reverse check box.