How To Make Your Own Tilt Shift Scenes In Photoshop

James Bruce 03-08-2011

tilt shift photographyTilt Shift is that wonderful effect that makes your photographs look like model dioramas, and we’ve covered a few utilities to achieve the effect Faking It With Style - Enhancing Your Images With TiltShiftMaker Read More before. This time though, I want to show how you can do the same thing in Photoshop – and apart from giving you more freedom in the overall process, it’s a great way to learn some Photoshop techniques like quick masking and levels.


Before we even get to Photoshop, you need to choose effective subject matter – you can’t simply tilt shift anything and expect to get a good result. Generally, you want something taken from high up, where you are looking down upon something. Panaramas can work well as long as they are focused on something at ground level rather than the sky or skyline.

Here’s one I chose to work with today, taken from the top of Kyoto station looking south:

tilt shift photography

Load in your image and decide where you want the focus point to be – this is where your image will be the sharpest and most visible in detail.

Start by selecting a fairly large size brush with soft edges. In my high-pixel photo, I chose a brush size of about 400px with 0 hardness.


tilt shift pictures

Next, enter quick mask mode by pressing Q. You’ll notice the colour pallet has turned black and white, and the little icon beneath shows a white circle in a grey frame.

Paint the area you’ve chosen to focus on with your brush. It should be a red highlighter (this is called quick masking). It doesn’t need to be entirely horizontal, but aim to paint a large line across where you want to focus. Aim to cover about a quarter or a third of your photo.

tilt shift pictures


Now, exit quick mask mode and you should see selection marks appear around the area you didn’t paint the mask onto. Without deselecting that area, go up to Filters -> Blur -> Lens Blur. I suggest a blur radius of around 30 (ignore all the other settings), but play around with it yourself as this is the most important part of the process – beyond this we will just be adjusting colouring.

Apply the effect when finished and hit Ctrl-Shift-D to deselect and see it applied to your image fully without the selection marks.

tilt shift pictures

Next, open up the Image -> Adjustments -> Hue/Saturation dialog box. Increase the saturation until you get something you like – this makes a more realistic looking ‘model’ than the dreary colours of everyday life. In this photo, I went up to about 50!


what is tilt shift

Next, open up the Image -> Adjustments -> Levels dialog. Brightness levels are a difficult concept, but I’ll try to explain what I understand simply. The flat parts on either side of the graph are extremes in black and white that aren’t being used. By dragging the sliders in, you’ll be ensuring that the darkest parts of your image can be displayed as dark as possible, and the same for whites. This will give you a greater contrast. The middle slider can then be used to adjust any imbalances overall, if you find the resulting preview too dark for instance. These were my final settings and the effect they created.

what is tilt shift

what is tilt shift


Finally, I like to ramp up the contrast and add a little more brightness using the Image -> Adjustments -> Brightness/Contrast. After putting contrast up to a full 100 and adding 19 to the brightness, I was left with the final product looking like this:

How To Make Your Own Tilt Shift Scenes In Photoshop kyoto station final

Cool huh? Here’s a few more I whipped up around Kyoto and Tokyo.

How To Make Your Own Tilt Shift Scenes In Photoshop tokyo temple

tilt shift photography

If you’ve had a go yourself and want to show off your creations, feel free to post links in the comments, as I’d love to see this being put to use. Don’t forget to check out all other Photoshop articles too.

Related topics: Adobe Photoshop, Image Editor.

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  1. Edward
    August 6, 2011 at 4:48 am

    This was my first attempt, but this is fun! Thanks!!

    • James Bruce
      August 9, 2011 at 3:03 pm

      thats strange, I cant view the full version. Disqus broken perhaps, shame.

  2. Rowdy Rob
    August 4, 2011 at 12:51 am

    Very interesting and informative article! I had ideas of trying to do "tilt-shift" images before, but this article shows that there's a bit more to it than I imagined. Thank you.

    • James Bruce
      August 4, 2011 at 7:23 am

      It's easy once you've it once, and the results are much better than one-click style tilt-shift generators. Choosing the right subject matter is quite important though, I think

  3. Henny Penny
    August 3, 2011 at 11:55 pm

    Not that I didn't think it would..but it works : )

  4. Tim Brookes
    August 3, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    Nice article James!