How to Simulate Tilt Shift Lens Look using Photoshop

The tilt-shift effect can be used on photographs to make the subject appear to be, rather than a full scale photograph, a miniaturized scene. Tilt-shift lenses, which can be quite expensive, achieve this effect by focusing on a single aspect of the shot and shifting the focal plane (blurring) the surrounding areas to create the optical illusion of smallness in any subject, from houses, to cars, to freight trains.

tilf shift effect
Photo by Dan Davison

While an actual tilt-shift lens may be the optimal way to achieve this look, photo editing softwares such as Photoshop or Gimp can help you get very similar results in just a few simple steps. It’s a fun technique that plays with the power of perception, tricking the eye into viewing the objects in focus as adorable and toy-sized.

Photo by Eduardo Millo

6 steps to simulate the tilt-shift effect in Photoshop:

  1. Take a photograph/select an image. When choosing something that you want to seem miniaturized, keep in mind the perspective should be from about 45 degree angle. Cityscapes, crowds, streets, and trains – even people – can make for great subjects from the right vantage point.
  2. Open your image in Photoshop, and enter Quick Mask Mode (this can also be achieved by pressing Q on your keyboard). From here, go to your sidebar and find the gradient tool (which you can switch to from paint bucket, located below your eraser tool). Gradient tool shortcut: “G” or “Shift-G” to switch from paint bucket to gradient)
  3.  When your gradient tool is open, you will be able to draw a line on your image wherever you’d like the point of focus to be. Drawing a short but vertical line on your focus point will create a gradient mask for the surrounding space – this mask should appear as a red band across the page. (If you do not see the red mask click on “” back slash. )
  4.  Once you have your mask in place, exit Quick Mask Mode by pressing Q again to return to Standard Mode. Select from to top menu Filter < Blur < Lens Blur – this will effectively blur the mask you’ve created, while maintaining the clarity of your focal point, hopefully resulting in the desired effect.
  5.  From here, you will have the option to adjust the strength of the blur by increasing or decreasing the radius. After choosing how strong or weak the blur is, and adjusting the focus if need be, you might also want to tweak your saturation and contrast slightly to make your completed tilt-shift effect more authentic looking.
  6.  Model sets are often brightly painted, so increasing the luminance and saturation may help, as well as a little bump in contrast.

shift focus technique
Photo by Fabian Ortiz

Voila! The tilt-shift effect is complete. Feel free to try this out on your photographs, and post the results in the comments below.