Home Process Tilt Shift in Action

Tilt Shift in Action


I thought I'd share the post processing techniques that I used on one of my images. This particular one is a Photoshop tilt shift effect that can be quite useful if you can't use an actual tilt shift lens.

First off a little disclaimer, I know there are some strong opinions regarding what you should or should not do in post production. I'm not going to go into this discussion too much but I do have my view on the subject. To me Photoshop is merely a tool which creative people (that's us) can use to create our art. As long as the creator can be upfront and honest about what techniques he/she uses I see no problem in the usage of any tool he/she may have at hand. After all we should strive to be creative and true to our vision, which tools we use to accomplish that is of lesser meaning. 

Photoshop requires a lot of skill to master and anyone saying differently doesn't know what they are talking about. Photoshop is a tool which can elevate your photography to the next level but only if you know the basics too. The age old saying “shit in shit out” is so very true
here. If your raw material isn't high quality, than no photoshop technique in the world will save you. Ok, enough with this chit chat.  Let's get to it!

One important thing to remember when going for this scale model effect is to take your image from an elevated position. You want to be looking down on the subject just like you would be looking down on a miniature model. The effect is supposed to mimic the short depth of field from a macro lens. Lets start with a before and after so you'll get a feel for the whole thing.

In my workflow, the first thing I do is to import and backup my files in Lightroom. I use Lightroom as a first editing step. You can do most of this in Camera Raw too but I prefer Lightroom because of the ability to manage my files and the functions it offers. What I usually do is some basic exposure, contrast and white balance settings. I may also add some gradient filters, lens corrections, b&w conversions and capture sharpening depending on what I'm after. With this particular image I will use a split tone preset.

I rarely end up using a preset exactly as they are but they can often get you close to what you want. With some slight tweaking you can get something quite interesting. With this preset I ended up with using a gradient mask to slightly tone down the sky.

I don't add much sharpening in Lightroom, the preset amount of 25 is usually pretty close. The sharpening in this stage is only supposed to get back the sharpness that is lost by the anti-moiré filter which sits in front of the sensor on most dslr's. Obviously this isn't the same on all camera/lens combos and how much sharpening you should apply is also effected by the f/stop used, ISO setting etc. The key here is to always use a very moderate amount of sharpening.

When I'm pleased with my initial adjustments I will take my image to Photoshop.  The principle of any good Photoshop workflow is to always work in layers. Layers are your friends and they should be used AT ALL TIMES! That way you can always go back and adjust your effects. So the first step will be to create a new layer copy, keyboard shortcut is cmd+J(ctrl+J on PC) I'll name this one “T/S effect”.

The next step is to make a selection for the blur filter. In the new layer go into quick mask mode by hitting the letter “Q” key. Then find the gradient tool in the tool menu.

It's important to select the “reflected gradient” box in the gradient tool menu. It's the forth box from the left.

Now take the gradient tool and click in the middle of where you want the sharp part of the image to be, and drag it down to where you want the sharp part to end. This isn't a very accurate method so some trial and error may be necessary.

When you think you have it right, exit the quick mask mode by hitting the letter “Q” again. You'll now see the selection. Then go to filter > Blur > Lens Blur… A new window will pop up with a preview of the blur effect. If the sharp area is not where you want it to be you?ll need to go back to the quick mask mode and modify the selection.  As mentioned some trial and error might be needed here.

You can adjust the amount of blur by dragging the radius slider. When satisfied hit OK. The filter will now be applied to your image, this step might take a little while. If the progress bar seems to have stopped it probably hasn't but instead is just moving very slow.

As you can see, the blur filter has been applied to the image but it may cover some areas that you don't want covered. In this particular example the rider and some flags are blurred out and will need to be fixed. To do this we'll add a vector mask to the T/S effect layer. Simply click the “add vector mask” button below the layers.

Now select the brush tool and the color black. Make sure the vector mask is selected and simply paint over the areas which should be sharp. Zoom in and go over the areas carefully. If you take too much of the blur, change the color over to white and paint it back in. If you find that you're painting the picture black instead of painting in the sharpness you must select the vector mask instead of the layer itself.

When you're happy with the results we'll make another copy of the background layer. Then select both the T/S effect layer and the new one and hit cmd E (ctrl E on PC) this will merge the two layers together. Then select the merged layer (should still be called “T/S effect”) and hit cmd J (ctrl J on PC) to make a copy. Rename this one to “Sharpening” and you're ready for the last step.

Zoom in to 100% and go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp mask… Adjust the Amount, normally I will not go over 100 but some images can take more sharpening then others. I rarely touch the Radius or Threshold but you can experiment and see what is working for you're particular image. One little note though, radius should be kept quite low (I never go above 2.0) or you'll get these horrible halo effects around edges. When satisfied just hit OK…

Save the image and you're done! Saving the file as a PSD will enable you to go back and re-edit the file later on. I hope this little tutorial can be helpful to some of you. Let your creativity flow and don't let the lack of some gear stand in your way!  If you have any questions don't hesitate to contact me at [email protected].

About the author

My name is Elias Kunosson. I'm a Swedish photographer with a huge passion for action and adventure sports. I started out shooting my friends doing freeriding on snowmobiles in the Swedish backcountry about 4 or 5 years ago. The interest grew on me and I'm now running my own business. The sports has grown in number, I still shoot snowmobiling but recently I've been very intrigued with downhill biking. To view some of my work please check out my website at EliasKPhoto.com



  1. Awesome article, Alias! One of my favorite articles on Photoshop techniques on the website! I would appreciate a final image after the last adjustment just to get a complete idea of where you are going with you editing flow.
    Keep up the good work!


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