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What is Tilt Shift Photography and How Do You Fake It

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 6 19


Have you ever seen pictures that look like miniature model scenes? They’re usually very colorful and dramatic. Well, these pictures are created by using tilt shift photography, where a highly specialized tilt shift lens is used to control the depth of field of a typically large scene, to create a miniature via an optical illusion. Usually a subject in one part of the scene will be in sharp focus and the rest of the scene will blur out at quite a steep gradient. The effect makes it look like someone built a miniature toy replica of a real landscape, cityscape, architectural buildings or a street scene.


Tilt shift lens vs. post-production software 

I love this photography trick and if done right, it can produce some really interesting shots. However, a tilt shift lens is fairly expensive, but if you don’t want to lose out on all the fun, there is a cheaper option. This involves taking your pictures with a normal camera lens and using software to create the effect during post-production. Nothing beats the real thing if you want to make sure to get a result that doesn’t look fake, so to learn more about it, read up on the technique using a tilt shift lens


How to fake the tilt shift technique 

Until you save up to buy that lens, why not give the software option a shot? Photoshop is the go-to option, but you can also try a free online service called tiltshiftmaker.com, which takes your uploaded photo and creates your miniature for you. However, this service is rather basic and doesn’t give you a lot of options to play around with effects. There are a few iPhone and iPad apps that help you out too. In this article, I’ll show you how to use Photoshop, but before that you need to take a good picture that is a right candidate for this technique.


Taking the right picture 

A good candidate for tilt shift photography is a simple scene with few objects. A crowded city skyline won’t give you that single object to focus on and it likely will not have enough color contrast for the effect to make sense. However, a street of colorful houses with the focus being on just one or two of the houses, can work.


Tilt Shift Example of Colorful Buildings in a Street Scene



A close up of chaotic traffic is not a good candidate, but a single road with automobiles in the foreground and buildings or a landscape in the background is perfect.  


Tilt Shift Example of an object on focus


If you have people or animals in your picture, make sure they are far off or really small, so that they look like little toys in the scene. Close ups of these never work in miniatures.

Just as you would look at a miniature from above, the picture must be taken from above, but your camera should not point directly to a scene below. Doing this would not capture proper depth that is needed to create the effect.

Don’t use a blurry photo, as the technique blurs out much of your photo anyway, and the main subject in the picture needs to be in sharp focus. Also make sure the picture is well lit and has decent color contrast.


Tilt Shift Example of a building and people taken from above


Most importantly, select a scene that is interesting with some good details. Would you like to see a model of a flat desert?


Create fake miniatures with Photoshop 

Now that you’ve selected your photo, it’s time to apply the tilt shift technique to it. Here’s a brief tutorial on how to do it in Photoshop:

  • First select a focal point in your photo. This can be anything from an interesting building to a car on a road.
  • Next, create a mask, and using the gradient tool, select the focus point and how you want the blur gradient to work.
  • Next, apply the lens blur filter.
  • The above two steps will need to be tinkered with to get the effect exactly the way you want it. At this point, you should already see the miniature effect take shape.
  • Next, slowly increase the color saturation levels to make certain colors in the picture pop.
  • Finally, use the Curves tool to enhance the tonal contrasts in the photo.

So that’s pretty much it. Keep trying this technique on various suitable photos until you get a convincing fake miniature that will impress everyone.



Adobe Photoshop will help you with the tilt shift technique and many others in post-production

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Jun 1, 2012 12:49pm
I have seen such pics, but always assumed they WERE models not real scenery. Wow. Never heard of the technique, so thanks for the primer (the "gingerbread" house in the last pic is a real fooler). A thumb.
Jun 1, 2012 7:08pm
Thanks for reading and the rating! When I first stumbled upon the technique I sorted through all my travel pics and applied it to everything. Couldn't believe the results! I love photography but I'm not an expert at all, so this makes me look a bit of a pro. The gingerbread house is a real building by Gaudi in Barcelona. BTW, there's another writer here that put up something about the real thing and I'm thinking of taking your idea about interlinking and asking him if I can backlink to it.
Jun 1, 2012 7:19pm
By all means do the backlink thing -- it helps not only you, but others looking for more info.
Jun 1, 2012 7:20pm
I have never heard of this (don't known much about photography). The Gaudi building looks so toy like and yet most of his buildings have a rather sinister quality to me.
Jun 1, 2012 7:35pm
Thanks for reading. You hit the nail on the head! When I was walking around on the roof of one of Gaudi's buildings it felt like I was on some alien planet
Jun 1, 2012 8:37pm
Architecturally, he used a lot of what would be called fractal elements, meant to emulate nature but gives that organic but alien look.
Jun 1, 2012 7:37pm
Be sure to submit this article for a possible feature. I really enjoyed reading it.
Jun 1, 2012 8:28pm
Thanks JD - coming from you that's a real compliment! I will.
Jun 4, 2012 1:28pm
I enjoy taking photographs and this is a fantastic technique, very interesting! Great article claudslewis!!
Jun 4, 2012 6:53pm
Thanks Introspective! I have a whole bunch of pics that I've applied it on; even ones that don't fit the criteria :-)
Jun 8, 2012 6:34am
I was really impressed with these. My husband's the photographer in our house so I'll make sure he reads your article.
Jun 8, 2012 8:08am
Thanks Judy! It's really simple to do, so get him to try it out sometime :)
Jun 21, 2012 10:01pm
Great article, I will have to try this!
Jun 21, 2012 10:11pm
Thanks and definitely do - it's so easy!
Jun 21, 2012 10:11pm
Thanks and definitely do - it's so easy!
Jul 17, 2012 5:22am
Great information on this. I had never heard of it either. I have been messing about with different lenses etc to create different effects. Although my husband hates photos being altered but it is something different. Must have a go although I would have to try it in Paint shop pro. Thanks rated. Oh congrats on feature.
Jul 17, 2012 5:38am
Thanks Eileen! If Paint Shop pro doesn't let you do it, you could try tiltshiftmaker.com too. It's free and very easy to use.
Sep 22, 2012 7:58pm
I have been waiting for a while to get a good Tilt-Shift lens. But until I get one, tilt-shift without a tilt-shift lens looks cool! Thanks for sharing.
Sep 22, 2012 9:59pm
Absolutely! It's one of those lenses that's a bit too dear for me but I love the effect. Thanks for reading
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