Tilt shift lenses can be a lot of fun, but they also tend to be quite expensive. Photoshop makes it possible to replicate a tilt shift effect pretty easily, and that is what we will be covering in this tutorial. For the tutorial we’ll be using this photo that you can download from ISO Republic.
And here is a sneak peak at the end result.
Step 1: Photo Selection
The tilt shift effect that we are mimicking is intended to make the scene look like a miniature model or toy. To get the effect you’ll need to use a photo that has been taken from a high vantage point looking down. It often works well with urban scenes that include people, cars, and buildings, but it can also work well with landscapes taken from a high vantage point.
Step 2: Making it Non-Destructive
The first thing we’ll do in Photoshop is duplicate the background layer so if we don’t like the results we won’t impact the original photo. You can do this by going to Layer > Duplicate Layer. Next, we want to convert the new layer to a smart object. The advantage of doing this is that when it is a smart object you will be able to go back and edit the blur later if you’d like. If you just apply the blur on a layer that is not a smart object you would need to undo and re-apply the blur if you decide that you want to change it. To make the layer a smart object right click on the layer in the layers palette and click on “convert to smart object”.
Step 3: The Tilt Shift Blur
Photoshop includes a blur filter specifically for the tilt shift effect, as long as you are using a version CS6 or newer. To access it go to Filter > Blur Gallery > Tilt Shift.
You’ll then see the tilt shift settings.
And you’ll see some lines on your photo that look like this.
The area between the 2 center lines will remain completely in focus. Then the area between those solid lines and the outer dashed lines will gradually blur with a gradient effect. And the area after the dashed lines will be completely blurred (“completely” meaning according to the strength of the blur setting that you are using… we’ll look at that in a minute).
You can drag those lines closer together or farther apart to make the area of focus larger or smaller, and to make the areas of gradual and solid blur larger or smaller. The smaller the area of gradual blur the harder the transition will be, and the larger the area of gradual blur the softer the transition will be.
In this case I am going to move everything down lower on the image so the buildings in the background will be blurred, and the bottom of the photo will only be blurred a little.
Now let’s move to the settings. The first one is the blur setting, which will control the strength of the blur. It’s measured in pixels, so the resolution of your photo will impact the setting that you want to use here. In this case I am going to set it at 20px. There is also a distortion slider. You can experiment with it and see how it impacts your photo. I find that it usually doesn’t make that much of a difference so I am leaving it set to 0.
In the blur effects you also have sliders for light bokeh and bokeh color that will impact the blurred areas of the photos. Moving the light bokeh slider to the right will lighten the blurred area. For this photo it makes the clouds and sky too white if you push this slider to far, so I will set it at 10%. Bokeh color will impact how colorful the blurred area is, but on this photo it doesn’t have much of an impact so I will leave it at 0. The light range setting determines the range of light where the blur appears. Moving the black slider to the left will exclude the darker areas and moving the white slider to the right will exclude the lighter areas. In this case I will set them to 200 and 245.
When you are done click “ok” at the top and the blur will be applied.
After the blur our photo looks like this.
Step 4: The Vignette
The last step is to add a vignette to draw the eyes to the center of the photo. Click on the icon at the bottom of the layers palette to add an adjustment layer, and then select “gradient”.
Create a gradient that flows from black to transparency.
Set the style to radial, the scale to 175%, and check the reverse box.
Then change the layer’s blend mode to “multiply” and set the opacity to 30%. You can adjust the opacity higher or lower to make the vignette stronger or softer.
And here is our final photo.
Have fun playing with the tilt shift blur!