- Overview of Tilt Shift
- What is a good base photo for Tilt Shift?
- To start
- Add blur
- Choose focus
- Brightness back
- adjust color
- Tilt Shift Effect Complete
Overview of Tilt Shift
Tilt shift is a very old photographic effect that has been given a new lease of life thanks to technology. The tilt-shift results in a real scene that looks like a miniature model. There is a small horizontal band of sharp focus where the rest of the image becomes out of focus and the colors are exaggerated. The original bellows cameras (with pleated fabric connecting the lens to the camera body) were the original tilt-offset. The lens literally tilted and shifted to find focus and perspective on the subject. Now you either buy very expensive special lenses to recreate this effect, or you work in digital editing mode.
In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to manually create a tilt-shift effect in Photoshop Elements. The beauty of this manual method is that you can use it no matter which version of Photoshop Elements you have. However, if you have Photoshop Elements 11 or later, you can skip to our tutorial on how to create the tilt-shift effect.
Note that the layer mask feature used in this tutorial was introduced in Photoshop Elements 9, but if you have an older version, you can add a layer mask feature using the free layer mask tool for Photoshop Elements.
What is a good base photo for Tilt Shift?
So what makes a good photo to use the tilt-shift effect? Let’s take a look at our sample photo above. First, we have a high perspective on the stage. We look at the stage as a miniature model. Second, it is a broad view. A lot is happening on stage, we don’t just see a small part with a few people and a table. Third, while not absolutely necessary, make the photo larger than it is wide. I find the effects of tilt-shift stronger in portrait or square photos, also highlighting the small size of the horizontal focus bar. Fourth, there is a great depth of field. Even though you’ll be blurring most of the photo during editing, starting with a large depth of field will give you the most variation in the placement of the focus strip and a more even blur of the rest of the scene. Fifth, there are many colors and shapes in this photo. Having lots of colors and shapes adds interest to your scene and keeps the viewer from becoming obsessed with one object.
This helps create a miniature feel in the final product.
This tutorial is written in Photoshop Elements 10, but will work in any version that supports layer masks.
Related: Adding Layer Masks to Elements 8 and Earlier
First open your photo. Make sure you are in full edit mode and the layer and settings sidebars are visible.
We’ll be working with multiple layers in this tutorial, so if you’re not comfortable keeping track of layers, I recommend renaming each layer to help you remember why you created that layer. To rename a layer, click the layer name, enter a new name, and click side to set the name. I will name each layer but this will not affect the final image, the layer names are for your use only while editing.
Now make a duplicate of the layer. You can do this with keyboard shortcuts (Command-J on Mac or Control-J on PC) or by going to the Layer menu and selecting Duplicate Layer. I named this layer Blur because this layer will be our blur effect.
With the new layer selected, go to the Filter menu and select Blur. From there, a submenu will open and click on Gaussian Blur. The Gaussian Blur settings menu opens. Use the slider to choose the amount of blur. In this example, I’m using 3 pixels because I’ve already optimized the preview image for the web. In your images, you will most likely use numbers closer to 20 pixels. The goal is to keep the photo sharp, but the objects should be relatively recognizable.
Now we are going to choose where and how much attention we want to add to our photo. This is a big part of the work of tilting your photo. Take your time and just follow the instructions. It’s not as difficult as it seems.
First we need to create a layer mask on the blur layer. To create a layer mask, make sure the blur layer is selected, then look directly below the layer view and click on the square with the circle in it. This is the Add Layer Mask button.
The new layer mask appears as a white square on the same level as the blur layer, with a small chain icon between the two icons.
To easily blur the new focus area, we’ll use the Gradient tool. In the sidebar, click the Gradient icon (the small rectangle with yellow on one side and blue on the other). The gradient options bar now appears at the top of the screen. Select a black and white gradient from the first drop-down list. Then click on Reflected Gradient. This allows you to create a central focus area with the same feather at the top and bottom of your selection.
When you hover your mouse over a photo, you get a crosshair cursor. Hold down the Shift key and click in the center of the bar you want to focus on and drag the cursor straight up or down just below the desired focus area (the feather fills the extra area). After making this selection, a black bar will appear on the layer mask icon. This shows where the focus area is in your photo.
If the focus area is not exactly where you want it, you can easily move it. Click the little chain icon between the layer and layer mask icons. Then click on the layer mask. Now select the Move tool on the toolbar. Click the photo in the focus area and drag the focus area where you want it. Make sure to only drag up or down or else you will get blur on one side of the focus area. After adjusting the blur, click on the empty space between the layer and layer mask icons and the chain will reappear, noting that the layer mask is re-anchored to the layer.
You’re almost done. You’ve done most of the work creating your tilt-shift photo. Now we’re just going to add the finishing touch.
One of the annoying side effects of Gaussian Blur is the loss of brightness and overall clarity. With the blur layer selected, click the small two-tone circle at the bottom of the Layers screen. Creates a new fill or adjustment layer. Select “Brightness/Contrast” from the drop-down menu. A series of sliders will appear in the Adjustments screen below your layers. At the very bottom of the settings screen is a small row of icons that starts with two overlapping circles. This is the icon for choosing whether the adjustment layer affects all layers below or just the one layer directly below the adjustment layer. This is called “Write to Icon”.
Click the “Pin To” icon to make sure that the Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer affects only the Blur layer. Use the Brightness and Contrast sliders to brighten the area of the blur and restore the contrast. Remember you want it to look a bit unrealistic, like a scale model.
It remains only to make the color resemble paint, and not natural ones.
Select the small two-tone circle at the bottom of the Layers screen again, but this time select Hue/Saturation from the drop-down list. If the new Hue/Saturation adjustment level does not appear at the top of the layer list, click and drag the layer to the top position. We’ll let this layer affect all other layers as well, so we won’t associate it with a specific layer.
Use the Saturation slider to increase the color saturation until the scene looks more like toys than life-sized objects. Then use the Lightness slider to adjust the brightness of the color. Most likely you will only need to make a small adjustment up or down on this slider.
Tilt Shift Effect Complete
This is it! You did! Enjoy your image!
• Free Layer Mask Tool for Photoshop Elements
• Tilt Shift in GIMP
• Tilt Shift in Paint.NET