Ridgway, Colorado
May 15
A sometimes artist and photographer, sometimes I write too.  


MAY 8, 2009 7:10PM

tilt-shift, a Photoshop technique

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This is the second in what may be a continuing series of stuff I do in Photoshop. You’re not really limited to Photoshop, as it’s such an expensive program. Similar, if not exact, things can be done in Gimp, a free photo manipulation program, or in the less expensive PS sibling Photoshop Elements. For this tutorial, you'll need at least the Creative Suite version of Photoshop. I use CS4 but earlier versions work too.


The first of the series was on how to "Ortonize" a photograph, especially nice for portraits. That post can be found here.


Some of you have seen a few of my "tilt-shift" photographs. There are a few that are scattered throughout my blog in various posts. I'll repost those at the end of this blog—with new ones not seen before.


Tilt-shift gives us a photo result that you can get to in a couple of different ways. You can buy a $2000.00 Perspective Control Tilt Shift lens, or you can simulate it in a series of fairly simple Photoshop processes. It's not difficult, and it's a fun thing to do. (I added a link at the bottom of the post to show you what a real PCTS lens looks like.)


The image above is the end result of the fake tilt shift process. It's a photo taken from the flyover above Granville Island looking toward my friend's place at the north end of Vancouver.


Ok, lets get started.


The first thing to do is to choose a photo you want to work on. Well—even before you do that—a note about picking the right photograph for this process as not every photo will work well. The effect of the process is that it often creates an illusion that you're looking at a model. We're used to seeing models from above, so the mind can be more easily fooled by pictures taken looking down than those that are looking up or ones at eye level. But that's not a hard and fast universal rule. You can see in an iPhone photo that Mishima processes here, that the selective focus works quite well with his photo. (The link above is also a hilarious story on how that photo was stolen by God Almighty to use as His personal Avatar on OS.)


So, the point is to play around and have fun. Once you get the process down pat—and it's not really difficult—you can try different photos of yours to see how they turn out.


You can use the original of mine above if you wish to run the tutorial. That image can be found here.




Step 1 Initial steps and settings

Open your chosen image and made a duplicate of it. Work off the duplicate—always a good idea. Then press Q to switch to Quick Mask mode. Or you can choose Quick Mask as a menu option as shown:




Next, click on the Gradient Tool as shown:




Set the default colors to black and white by pressing D. If you've been using another color in Photoshop from a previous session, you need to get back to the defaults:



before pressing D on the keyboard


After getting to the default colors, then click on the little two-headed curved arrow so that the white color is in the foreground.



after pressing D on the keyboard and then clicking on the two headed arrow


Next set up the gradient as shown below. Make sure you select the Reflected Gradient option, the fourth button along from the left:




Step 2 Apply the Mask

Choose where you want the focal point to be on the photo. That will usually be about half way between the top and bottom of the photo, but not always. Click and hold at that point. Drag the line of the gradient tool upwards, releasing it near the top of the image. It doesn't matter if your line is not vertical. In fact, in the image above, I was about 6 degrees off vertical.




You should get something that looks like the image below:




Press Q on the keyboard again to get out of the Quick Mask mode and you'll see something like this:




You can use the arrow key to move the selection up or down a bit. But the selection is what will be out of focus, so you need to inverse the selection:




So that you'll have something like this (I know the difference is subtle, but it's crucial):




What you see after the inversion, are the parts of the photo that will be rendered out of focus.


Step 3 Apply the Lens Blur

Choose Filter→Blur→Lens Blur to bring up the photo in the Lens Blur filter pane:



It will take a little fudging of the settings to get it optimal for your image, but start with the settings shown below:




Click OK to apply the effect and you'll be returned to your image with the tilt shift focus in place. You'll probably still have an area that has a marquee around it, press Command-D (on a Mac) or Control-D (on a PC) to deselect the marquee.


Step 4 Finishing up

The final step is easy enough. You want to enhance the artificiality—the sense that you're looking at a model. Bring up the Curves palette:




Drag the RGB channel to something like what is shown below. Make sure you select the Preview button in the Curves palette and you can see the changes as you make them.




That's it! You've done it! You have a fun cool thing to look at. Below is a side by side to show you the before and after:




You can see a larger version of the side by side here.





Here follows some of my own examples of the Perspective Control Tilt Shift technique I've used on some of my own photos. Some are successful, some not so much.



A landscape oriented version of the tilt shift image we worked on:





Several from Tokyo:



<a href="" title="Untitled by bbdoyle, on Flickr"><img src="" width="485" height="726" alt=""></a>







colores aeropuerto



Another from Vancouver, BC:




Two from Hawaii:


I wonder if that boat is called




This one, from the Gaylord Resort near DFW features a woman in a red dress at the center of the shot. When I showed this to my artist and photographer son and told him that it was not a real model, he said "Get OUT!"


building a model


You can see a  larger version of the one above here and scan for the "miniature doll girl" at the center in the original size here.




A home that is an oasis in the midst of the heat and humidity of Dallas:


when your home is an island



From the first level up on the Eiffel Tower:





Some from Mesa Verde:


Mesa Verde renditions


Mesa Verde renditions


Mesa Verde renditions


Mesa Verde renditions


Mesa Verde renditions


Mesa Verde renditions


Mesa Verde renditions



And, lastly, one of my favorites. I love how the focus is on that lone bike rider. This was taken from a hotel window in Portland, Oregon.



Thanks so much for taking the time to visit. I hope you have a fabulous weekend, and the best Mother's Day possible.




all images copyright © 2004, 2007, 2008, or 2009 by barry b. doyle • all rights reserved




Addenda: You can see what a real Perspective Control/Tilt-Shift lens looks like here, here or an enlarged image of the 24mm one here. 

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Barry, as always, you leave me in abject awe. Gorgeous work. One of these days I'll try this...
So I skimmed through just to look at the photos, although I did pause to admire the computer voodoo. My favorite is the fourth Mesa Verde.
You are the Master Joda of photography... Those photos are amazing, the results are so captivating and sharp in contrasts and colours! I´m in awe. Thank you, Master... :)
Where is Mesa Verde? I NEED to know!
Barry, in the past when I saw your photos that are shown in this post, I was under the impression that to create this effect one would have to purchase some additional software for Photoshop. How wrong I was! Thank you for this in-depth tutorial on how to create this most useful visual effect without additional cost. I can think of some photos that I have on hand that could be enhanced by this method.

There are many features of Photoshop that I clearly have not explored despite an over abundance of Photoshop-related books that I purchased over the past 15 years. It's always great to see an OS member taking the time to contribute back to the community in this way!
This is so cool. Thanks for alerting me to it.
These are amazing. I can scarcely believe these are photos of real things and places they are so fantastical.
Wonderful! What a fun tool. (Hm, I may need to upgrade photoshop here soon.)
VR, thank you so much. You know I admire you in so many ways, so your kind words mean a lot.

MsM, that's my favorite too. It's one I settled on for my blog banner. I don't get tired of looking at it.

Marcela, thank you for your kind words. Mesa Verde is a National Park in the southwestern corner of Colorado. I've been a few times and it never gets old. You can see some of my Mesa Verde shots on my Flickr pages, found here.

John, I had you in mind all the while I put this together. Thanks for your comments, I always love it when you stop by.

Thanks Emma!

Thanks Ablonde, yes that's the goal of tilt shift--to add some whimsy to our lives. Thanks for your words.
Being something of a miniaturist in 3D, this technique astounds me. I first saw it a few weeks ago in the videos of that guy who shoots scenes of "Wee Sydney." It's all mind-bogglingly wonderful. Amazing Mesa Verde looks even more amazing!
You are a master at your craft. All of them! This looks to be Apple applications and I am still PC (next computer purchase will be an Apple).
Your photography, in all your posts, are spectacular in clarity, color and perception. I love how much you share and tutor for those who are in to this art form. I am still rather low tech and am in awe of you techie photogs.
Totally amazing. I remember the Tokyo post; I liked that a lot, as I do all of these shots.
I love tilt-shift photos, although they sort of freak me out because they are so effective. How can they NOT be some kind of scale model. I also really appreciate your generosity in taking the time to do this tutorial. I have PS Elements, so I probably won't be able to do this, but I still find that I learn a lot from just following along with your instructions.

Thanks and Happy Mother's Day to your bride :)
I wish I could say I would try this, but I know me, and I won't. I bought Photoshop and have never figured out how to use it on my Mac. My bad.

The photos are really takes a good eye to make them pop like these.

However I wish someone could show a novice with no understanding of html how to link in OS.... I tried using Rob's instructions, but have not succeeded. I need really plain, language, and screenshots are really helpful, as I was able to change my banner, finally!
It really is just shocking how much they look like models!!

Mon Dieu!

Thanks for this!
Great tutorial, and I love all the photos. Thanks for posting.
I love the little baggage carrier.
I want to tear it out and push it around whilst making "vroom-vroom" sounds!

(thumbified for a nifty trick!)
Amazing. I suck at photoshop--want to give me personal lessons? Really, it's almost impossible to believe that these aren't scale models. I'm gonna have to try to figure this out.
these are fantastic. there's a special place in my pantheon for artists who share their processes. thank you so much!
Excellent tutorial! I'm taking this to my designers for inspiration.
Thank you and rated.
I used to teach PS and this technique was always one of my funnest classes. I think because the feedback is so immediate.
Interesting extra tip on "Step 2 Apply the Mask" when you get the "pink" screen (dating myself I'll always think of it as Chromalith): You can keep drawing the gradient over and over to get the exact angle and center of focus you want.

What I like is how it takes a unique combination of foreground, midground and background objects to make a tilt shift work. My mind sees lichen in Red Dress; Mesa Verde looks like museum diorama.
Barry, I love your tips! This is awesome. Thank you so much.
I don't know if I'll ever use this but I am in awe how you set it up,
with the pull down windows and all. Lonnie had told me about compressing a file and when I wanted to print one of my photos
there was a pull down menu for PDF with a "compress file"
option. Is that what I want, to get the right size for an OS post?
oooh, I'm so excited to try this at home! I just discovered t/s ( and was crushed when I learned how much the lens cost - no fun for me...until now! Thanks Barry! Your lessons are always the best.
These feel sort of magical and unreal. Fascinating.

Thanks for sharing and teaching us the tools, even if we don't actually attempt it. I only have PS Elements, so I might not have all those features, but I am going to play with it a little more.
I'm thinking I need to be sober to do this.
Really, I have enough trouble with point and click. Maybe, someday, you could teach a weekend seminar for the challenged among us.
I am so happy to see these images. I still have the link to Chris Phin's tutorial and revisit it when I'm in the mood. Of course there was your original post but now with many more examples. Has it really been since last July when you taught me how to do this?how to do this? I still enjoy that image and your generous comment about it. Cheers Barry.
Again, awesome photos. And you are very generous with your time and knowledge.

I saw one of those Mesa Verde "dioramas" on your blogsite and had written you, saying it looked like MV - and you wrote back and said it was! I can't get over the way this works. It's something about the light and shadow; but also, somehow this tiltshift seems to change the "air". I dunno. Can't wait till I can retire and Really devote myself to things as this.

Fascinating! I'm not sure if I will be able to learn this, but it's worth a try! I'm so glad I "found" you! Your posts are incredible!