Are you old enough to remember the television show, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood? The opening scene was a model mock-up of the perfect little neighborhood. That is a fine example of tilt shift photography images, and perhaps nostalgia has something to do with why these types of photos are adored. They’re colorful, cute, and they tend to make this big world around us feel a bit cozier.
I first discovered the Tilt Shift technique perusing the photography of Drew Wilson, an uber talented young photographer here in Sarasota. I asked him about the process and he was kind enough to share it with me.
Tilt shift lenses focus on a single part of the photo and shift (blur) the surrounding area to create an optical illusion of miniaturized scenery. Real tilt shift lenses are quite expensive, but a similar effect can be achieved by using Photoshop after you take the photo.
Tilt-shift photographs create an optical illusion that makes scenes appear as if they are actually miniature models (like your uncle’s train set). The outer edges are blurred which tricks the eye into perceiving everything in the unblurred parts as miniature. There is a Flickr group dedicated to this technique. It’s a fun post processing trick – and it’s quite easy to reproduce.
Here is my (and Drew’s) Photoshop tutorial for creating fake tilt-shift photos.
Taking the photo. An above ground shot is usually best for this type of technique. Cityscapes, crowds, streets, and similar things are perfect.
Open the shot in Adobe Photoshop and click onto “quick mask mode”.
Select the gradient tool.
Select the “cylindrical gradient reflected gradient”.
Draw vertically upwards from where you want the point of focus to be up the screen to the top of the window, and release the mouse button. A red transparent line should appear.
Go back into “Standard Mask Mode”.
In Photoshop go to Filter; Blur; Lens Blur (Or if you have Photoshop 7.0 you can use Gaussian Blur). Then select the amount of blur you’d like. You can experiment with the radius value a bit to see what amount of blur looks best.
(Optional) For a more “plastic” feel you can increase the saturation and contrast in the photo. There you have it – you should have a pretty decent miniature scene. You can experiment with lots of different photographs – some are a lot better than others for “miniaturization”.