How To: Create A Tilt-Shift Effect {part 1}

In addition to a macro lens, a tilt-shift lens or lens baby (Composer?) are on my Camera Gear Wish List.  Of course, I can't really afford nor justify such a purchase.  However, that doesn't mean I (and you!) can't still enjoy the effects!

Tilt-shift is a method of selectively focusing within a photo to create a "fake miniature" effect.  I'm sure there's a more technically precise way of describing it but that's how I understand it.  In addition to the cool "fake miniature" effect, you can also use this method to draw attention to a particular area within a photo.  If you have about $1500 for a somewhat frivolous purchase, you can buy a special tilt-shift lens to capture this effect.  Or, if you're like me and you don't have $1500 just lying around, you can do it post-production (assuming you have PhotoShop or PS Elements...).  There are lots of tutorials online but I'm going to show you how I did it recently.

1. Open your image in PhotoShop.

2. Enter Quick Mask Mode by selecting the Quick Mask icon in the tool box/palette thing.

3. Select Gradient Tool and the Reflective Gradient option (fourth icon from the left in the top little bar).

4.  Draw a line starting at the point that you want to be the center of focus for the image and extend upward.  This part may take some trial and error to figure out where exactly you want the focus to be.  When you've drawn your line properly, the screen should show a red bar in the area that will be in focus.

5. Switch back to Standard Mode by selecting the appropriate icon in that tool box/palette thingy again.

6. At this point, you should have the flashing dashes surrounding the different areas of your photo.  Next, apply Lens Blur.  I had to boost the radius on my lens blur filter to 70.  This is the only tweak I made to the default settings.  Adjust yours as necessary to show the amount of blur you're going for.

7. Once the blur is applied, deselect the flashing dashes by hitting Command D (on a PC I think it's Control D).  Now boost the saturation to replicate those bright overly saturated colors you find in miniature scale models.  I boost mine to somewhere between 30 and 40.

8. This is also the point where you can make other adjustments to the overall image.  For this one, I boosted the Brightness and Contrast and added a very slight S Curve to make the colors pop even more.

9. Once you're happy with the color scheme, click Save and admire your work!

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I'll show you a few more examples of photos edited with this technique as well as some cool phone apps that offer a tilt-shift option!


  1. wow! thanks for sharing this, it will be useful for my future travel photos :) xoxo jillian:: cornflake dreams

  2. really great tutorial:) you have so many great tips and ideas!
    I have a tiltshift app on my ipod, and it's so fun to use.

  3. Can't wait to try it! Thanks!!

  4. How cool! I need photoshop...and a nicer camera! Great tutorial!

  5. This is fantastic and I always like cool effects like that. Shame I keep forgetting where I find the instructions for the effect after a while...derrr.

    Thanks for your birthday wishes :-) xo

  6. This is SO cool! I love learning photo trickery :) Thanks for sharing your knowledge!!! xoxoxo brynn

  7. this is way cool! thanks for sharing i love it!!

  8. amazing tutorial, thanks for sharing, love ur work...so beautiful


  9. This is really cool - I thought I'd need to get those expensive lenses eventually to pull this off but I'm glad to know that's not the case. I don't have photoshop either, yet, but that's easier to do. Thanks for the great tutorial!

  10. Steph! This is great! Thanks for letting me know about this post. I will try it on some photos and let you know how it goes!

    :-)) you're awesome! a hug to molly and you!

  11. p.s. It's me - Reese that left the comment just before...I'm writing from one of my email addresses that has this stupid tag from years ago....:-(



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