Fake Tilt-Shift – Miniature Photography – Photoshop Tutorial

Introduction Tilt-Shift Photography

Lots of online article or video tutorials, show you how to make this effect, but not many explain how to make it more realistic. I wrote this tutorial cause I had much fun making miniature effect from my own photographs and made people around me to laugh, that alone was good enough reason to write this article.

Final realistic Miniature effect
Find out more about Tilt-Shift lenses here. Most common use of Tilt-Shift lenses is in architectural photography because of its unique ability to control perspective in photos and manipulate the plane of focus. Most people use it even for Landscapes, when they want to achieve the whole scene to be sharp despite the fact that the foreground element is just few feet away and the background is miles away.


Why its called fake Tilt-Shift – Miniature?

Tilt-Shift lenses have amazing capabilities that can give you that special effect, while only shallow line is in focus and rest is not.  Amazing how even people that have no knowledge of photography will react to this effect. Because of the blur (out of focus area) and crisp sharp in focus area, it looks like a miniature. While Tilt-Shift lenses can make the most realistic miniature effect, we can achieve something similar by using software, in our case Photoshop CS5.


Why would anybody do fake tilt-shift miniaturization?

Because such photos may even be used professionally, example in commercial ad, cd/dvd/br cover, etc. Most of people use it just for fun. Best for-fun use is to make your friends laugh, especially if they are on photo.

Lots of online tutorials show how to make this effect, but not many tell you how to make it more realistic.


What you need?

Conditions to make best miniature effect:

  • Shoot from Perspective angles from  approx 35° to 80°
  • Take picture from bigger (higher) distance (higher better, example Eifel tower ;) )
  • Colorful environment


Fast but not so realistic way to get to miniature picture

There is simple way of doing it pretty fast but not so realistic:

  1. Open picture
  2. Duplicate Background layer (with image)
  3. Click Q (or bottom left – Quick Mask Tool)
  4. Go to Gradient tool
  5. Go to Gradient Picker and select Black, White
  6. Select Reflected Gradient (middle focus, rest blur) or Linear Gradient (what you select will be in focus, rest blurred) – Drag your focus over image
  7. Deselect Quick mask ( press Q)
  8. Go to Filter -> Blur ->Lens Blur (adjust settings as you wish, I use radius around 20-30, leave rest intact)
  9. Add image contrast (Image -> Adjustments ->Brightness/Contrast), maybe some brightness, play with colors (Image -> Adjustments -> Color Balance)
  10. Depends on image size, but most online examples are from 300-500px width, so you might go to Image Size and re-size to smaller version and Save your picture.

Above example is what most of the sites and videos online refer to. I don’t like it personally. Yes, you can make it better if you play around with settings, but it is more one step forward two backwards to make it look realistic.

You can use brush and erase tool to add or remove objects, subjects from focus, use opacity lower than 100% to avoid sharp lines from focus to out of focus and vice verse. I find this technique hard cause of red line on quick mask tool that represent focus line, is not 100% colored, it is fading toward end, and you can’t see exactly what is in light red or darker red, so you need to apply change and then check to see if you got it right.

Quick Mask - Focus Line
Quick Mask - Focus Line


Step by step to more realistic miniature final picture


Original picture:

Davis Cup - Original Picture
Davis Cup - Original Picture

You can download original picture here.

Step 1 – Open picture

Step 2 – Duplicate Background Layer (CTRL+N)

Drag your Background layer with picture to New Layer

Duplicate PS Layer
Duplicate PS Layer

Step 3 – Go to Filter -> Sharpen -> Unsharp Mask

Play with the settings until you get wanted result, your picture should be razor sharp, great for gravel, sand, etc. (for our picture I used 53% Amount and Radius 5.5 px)

Step 4 – Add Layer Mask to duplicated layer

Add Layer Mask
Add Layer Mask

Step 5 – Make invisible lower (background) layer

Step 6 – Switch to top Layer and Go to Gradient Tool

Step 7 – Select Gradient options (Black, White and Reflected Gradient)

Gradient Tool

Step 8 – Go to picture and select where you want your focus by dragging your mouse

Focus Line
Focus Line

(making better focus line now is less work later for fine adjusting)

Step 9 – Check all areas where bottom or top of the focus line touches and correct it buy drawing with black color brush tool, to add to focus, or drawing white to remove from focus

On above picture we need to remove judge on chair from focus, add legs from tennis player in focus, add ball collector to focus, …

It is same with nature, if you have bottom of tree in focus, then treetop should be in focus as well.

Not in Focus
Not in Focus

Step 10 – Select layer under Layer mask, with picture, and go to Filter -> Blur -> Lens Blur (adjust settings as you find most suitable for your picture, I took around 20), Apply effect

Step 11 – Duplicate Background layer one more time and Duplicate Blurred layer with Layer Mask

Step 12 – Apply Layer Mask

Step 13 – Merge 1 Background with Layer where you applied layer mask

Step 14 – Go to Image – Adjustments  – Brightness/Contrast… (add little contrast and Brightness if needed)

Step 15 – Go to Image – Adjustments – Color Balance  (add some color, try with mid-tones,  highlights and shadows)

Step 16 – Re-size your image (best effect that I personally got is with 300-500 px image width)

And there you have realistic miniature off your desired picture.

Final realistic Miniaturistic effect

Check example of not realistic one here.

Yes it looks like miniature, but not realistic. Legs are in focus but body is not, etc.


Lower angle photo


Lower Angle Photo
Lower Angle Photo

With lower angle photos like above, you should crop image to get best effect. And remove big objects like in our example grass on the left side.


Minaturistic Lower Angle Photo

What to shoot for best miniature result

Great subjects and objects to shoot from perspective are:

  • Bridges
  • Sand, gravel and water (Lakes, Ocean, Sea..)
  • Rails and Trains
  • Fields
  • Stadiums (Crowd)
  • Buildings, Villages, Cities (especially from high above)


Bottom line about fake tilt shift

I didn’t know about this few years ago, but after I found out about it, I run trough all off my photos and found all from higher perspective and took little time to play around, I suggest you do the same, have fun and make people laugh. After done feel free to post your work in comment area.

We will do our best to make tutorial for realistic fake tilt shift video as well.

About Tommy

Photography allows me to be what I want to be, to be where I want to be, and to do what I want to do ... I'm not professional photographer and I don't need a title, I love to take photographs and that is what I do, I love to learn and I always try to do it better ...

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