Creating tilt-shift manipulations in Photoshop is a really fun task. You can use its tools to manipulate the depth of field of a photograph to mimic the appearance of miniature models.
This effect can also be created directly in camera by using specific lenses – but if you don’t have the equipment or want to try it on a previous image then this tutorial is for you!
This tutorial was created using Photoshop CS6 on a PC. Though there’s no reason it shouldn’t also work in earlier versions of Photoshop.
Choose a Good Image
Firstly you need to pick an image that will actually work with this effect. I have found that images taken from higher ground work best, but there’s nothing stopping you trying the effect out for yourself on whatever you feel like. For this tutorial I’ve chosen a vintage image of Picadilly Circus in London.
So, once you’ve chosen your image open it up in Photoshop (File > Open or Ctrl+O) and we can get started.
Enter Quick Mask Mode
Quick mask mode is where we are going to select the portion of the image that we want to keep in focus. Using quick mask mode essentially puts a blanket over certain sections of the image that you choose, which turn into selections when you flip back into normal mode.
To enter quick mask mode you can simply hit Q on your keyboard or click the button underneath all of your tools and colours.
Now you are in quick mask mode. It should say next to your layer name just in case you aren’t sure – other than that, nothing will change unless you have the history window open.
Choose the Gradient Tool
You can select the gradient tool either by hitting G or selecting it from the toolbar on the left. The gradient tool is the one that goes from black to white, not the paint bucket.
Make sure that you select the fourth gradient effect from the top bar which is a reflect gradient. This allows is to keep in focus the section that we want.
Draw the Gradient
Time for the important part! This is where you determine which section of the image you want to keep in focus; meaning this can make or break the effect. Where you first click is going to be the main focal point of your image, so where you drag and release the gradient will be where you want the image to go out of focus. It is better to keep the focal point closer to you rather than further away to enhance the effect and make it look even more realistic.
Don’t worry – this section is a lot of trial and error so if you move further on and don’t think that the effect looks too great, just come back and try again.
I dragged my gradient from just above the red car to the middle of the road.
Now you can see where the gradient has been created. The section in red will be what is in full focus and it will fade out slowly.
Exit Quick Mask Mode
Return back to standard mode by hitting Q or the button underneath tools and colours as shown in step 2.
Now you should see a lovely selection of marching ants dancing their way around the section of the image that you don’t want to be in focus. If you aren’t satisfied with the selection you can undo (Ctrl+Z) or deselect (Ctrl+D) and go back into quick mask mode to create another gradient. Time for the lens blur.
To select lens blur, go to Filter > Blur > Lens Blur.
A window will open and this is where you will want to review and tweak any settings to make your image the best it can be. Luckily, you can preview the effect before actually going and applying it which makes things a lot easier. Play with the settings if you aren’t happy with the default, but make sure not to go too extreme with the blurring as we want to make this seem as much of a natural photograph as possible.
Once happy, click okay.
Deselect Your Image
Now deselect the marching ants around your image by pressing Ctrl+D or going to Select > Deselect.
All done! You can enhance the image by increasing the saturation, curves and contrast to make it more model like if you wish or leave it as is.
I hope you managed to take something away from this tutorial, if nothing else you’ve learned a few tricks! If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask - I’ll reply and give a (hopefully) helpful answer where possible.