Tilt-Shift Photography Effect with Photoshop

Tilt-shift photography refers to the use of tilt for selective focus. There are special lenses that can be used to create this effect optically, or it can be simulated in digital editing and processing.

Here are a few examples I did, following the steps I outline below:


The tilt-shift effect essentially creates a imitation of a miniature scene or a small-sized model, often from real-life photography. The tilt-shift effect can be a lot of fun and is very easy to do with Photoshop.

In this tutorial, I will take you through an easy 5 step method that will allow you to spend hours turning all your lovely landscape photographs into fantastic tiny worlds. I’ll be using a Mac and working with Photoshop CS5, but a PC and older versions of CS will do just as well.







To begin with, you’ll want to launch Photoshop and then open the desired photograph. Note: the most effective photographs to use with tilt-shift tend to be areal views, views from above, or at distance views. This is because tilt-shift creates a sense that the image viewed is actually a model or miniature of a real-life scene. This doesn’t mean that only specific types of images will work, eliminating others; figure out which photographs work best for you.

This is  a picture of St. Louis I took from the Arch. It will be a perfect image to use for our tutorial!


The first thing to do is to create a duplicate of the image. You can do this by right-clicking what Photoshop has dubbed “Background” in the Layers panel and choosing Duplicate Layer.

The Duplicate Layer dialogue box will appear. You can name the layer whatever you want or just click OK (or hit Enter on the keyboard) to accept the default name of “Background copy.” Don’t worry about the Background layer being locked; we won’t actually do anything to this layer.



Next we’ll want to blur the Background copy layer we just created. Blur is located under Filter on the Menu bar. Notice that when you hover over Blur under Filter, a list of Blur options becomes available. Photoshop provides a multitude of ways to blur images, but the one we want to use for this specific technique is Lens Blur. Go ahead and select Lens Blur from the Blur options.

Remember: we’re faking a photography technique traditionally created with a special lens, which is why it makes sense to use Lens Blur as opposed to any of the other options. Lens Blur does a better job at recreating what an actual lens will do.









The Lens Blur options Dialogue screen will appear. Notice that you have many different options available for use. There is no one specific way to create the desired effect – it really depends on the photograph and end intentions. My suggestion, as always, is to play around with the options and figure out which one you like best. For me, I tend to use Triangle or Square under shape in Iris (3rd option box from the top), with a Radius of 15, Blade Curvature of 15, and Rotation of 50. Note: these setting may not be the best for your photograph.

The next two steps are just about as involved as Blurring, where we’ll first need to add a layer mask to our Background copy, and then apply a gradient to that mask.


To add a layer mask, make sure the Background copy layer is active in the Layers panel and simply click the Add Layer Mask icon, located at the bottom of the panel.

The newly added layer mask will be selected, which is indicated by the black frame around it, in the Layers panel. If it is not selected, click it.






Now that we have our layer mask, the next thing to do is apply a gradient. We will use the Gradient tool to do this. Before creating a gradient, we will want to make sure we are using the right gradient (black and white) as well as format the gradient to fulfill our purpose.

Select Gradient in the Tools panel. Once Gradient is selected, the Control Panel (located below the Menu Bar) will become filled with Gradient options. To select the type of gradient to be used, click on the gradient spectrum located on the Control Panel. The Gradient Editor dialogue box will appear. Here we will choose the black and white gradient option.

Why choose black and white? If you have any experience with layer masks, you will be familiar with the concept of how layer masks work. Layer masks allow us to hide part of an image, essentially revealing the image located below (so in this example, we will hide part of the blurred Background copy layer, revealing the original Background layer).

To do this, we must first apply a layer mask (which we have already done) and then “paint” over the part of the image that we want to hide. To hide part of the image with the mask, you have to paint directly on the mask with black. On the same note, to reveal part of the image, you will need to paint with white. When working with layer masks, black conceals and white reveals. This means that black will hide the image (make it invisible), while white will not (keep it visible).

Make sure to select the black and white (3rd option) gradient in the Gradient Edit dialogue box. This is the gradient we will want to use because we are applying it to our layer mask. Any other gradient that uses color or lack of color will not work properly. However, this gradient goes from black to white, but we want our gradient to go from white to black to white. To do this, we will need to adjust the gradient in the Gradient Type section, with the spectrum.


To change the colors, select the stopper by clicking on it (make sure you choose the stoppers on the bottom of the spectrum, not the top) and then click Color (select the color, not the drop-down arrow). Change the color to white. Next, add a new stopper to the middle of the spectrum by clicking near the middle once. Make this color black by clicking the stopper and choosing black under Color.



You can further adjust the spectrum by pressing and dragging on the stoppers and pressing and dragging the markers between the stoppers. You can also name your Gradient in the name field and save it.


Once you have the gradient how you want it, click okay. You will be returned to the canvas. Make sure that in the Layers panel, the Layer Mask is selected. Now you can apply it to the mask by pressing and dragging a line from above the canvas to below. If you want a straight line, hold down Shift. Instantly, the gradient is applied to the Layer Mask, creating an illusion of a miniature in that part of the photograph is blurred while the rest is very detailed.


The last thing to do is apply a saturation effect. Miniatures and models tend to be brighter and more colorful than real-life objects, so to really sell the idea that this is a model and not an actual place, we’ll saturate the color by adding a Saturation layer.












On the Adjustments panel, click on Hue/Saturation (second row, second icon), then increase Saturation by pressing and dragging the slider bar to the right until you reach the point that you like best, while keeping an eye on your image. +30 works great for me! To accept the changes, click the large arrow in the bottom left hand side of the panel.


Voila! Miniature St. Louis!


  1. Darcy Grubaugh

    I remember when I first lay my hands on Photoshop I was so confused on what to click but now look, I’m doing great, all because of researching and learning. Beginners just watch tutorials and learn from your mistakes, you’ll learn fast, even without a mentor.

  2. Frederic

    Good post Stephanie!
    Your tutorials is very well explained and illustrated! I bookmark the site, there is some really good content!
    You can check some examples of tilt shift video on the web. It’s very interesting to see the world like a giant!
    I do a lot of photography and tilt shift can bring you to funny pictures!

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