An Introduction to Tilt-Shift Photography

An Introduction to Tilt-Shift Photography

A Guest Post by Patrick Ashley

Some photographers enjoy portraiture, capturing the essence of a person; others enjoy capturing a fast moment in a football game, or a delicate moment of a newly wed couple.

I like to shrink things.

Tilt-shift photography (or “miniature faking”) is a photographic genre that seems to have been gaining popularity in the last few years. Essentially, it’s taking a photograph of a real-world scene and making it look like a miniature scene, such as you’d find in a model railroader’s setup. Highly detailed miniatures have always fascinated me, so tilt shift photography was a natural draw. The White House? Shrink it. Piccadilly Circus? Make it Lilliput Lane. What’s not to love?

Tilt Shift Example.jpeg

Tilt-shift effects are done either optically, via a special (and expensive) lens, or more usually, in Photoshop. The procedure in Photoshop is not complicated; it can be accomplished in as little as one minute by those with experience. You don’t even need to have Photoshop to make a tilt-shift photo; has a free service for you, using your own photo. And of course, there’s a couple of iPhone apps for that.

Like anything in photography, it can be done, but can it be done well? That’s the question. Not just any photo can be used; and once a candidate photo is considered, the tilt shift post processing procedure must be done right as well.

At (site no longer live), I’ve got a post up about what constitutes a good candidate photo for a tilt shift treatment:

  • The photo must be taken from above, but not directly overhead. This only reflects what someone taking a photo of a miniature scene would likely do; it’s unlikely they would (or even could) be level to the subject. If you have a direct over shot, you won’t be able to get a decent depth of field that is required.
  • A simple scene is usually better than a complicated one. This is because miniature scenes are usually very simple; you wouldn’t find a dense city block, for example, in a model railroad scene. 
  • Photo sharpness is a must, as well as good lighting. There will be enough blur in the photo as it is; your focal point must be sharp.
  • If people are in the scene, they need to be fairly obscure and small. Again, reflecting what you’d see in a real miniature scene. People are very small, and not well detailed in miniature scenery. 
  • Generally, avoid wide shots, and make sure the scene is interesting – for instance, an aerial photo of a cathedral with spires and flying buttresses is interesting, while an aerial photo of a flat-topped shopping mall would not be.

Once the photo is selected, then the tilt shift treatment can begin. I use Photoshop, and while a complete tutorial is out of the scope of this post, you can find tutorials at (site no longer live). Yet, I can give you a brief over view of the process. First, you determine what your point of interest (and therefore focus) will be in the photo. You create a mask, they use the gradient tool on the mask to select was is to be in focus, and how the blur gradient will be placed. The the Lens Blur filter is applied. The gradient placement and amount of Lens Blur usually requires some trial and error to get right. Once it is satisfactory, the look of being a miniature is already apparent. Next, I kick up the master saturation level about 30%, giving more to greens sometimes, or other colors that you want to pop out. In miniature scenes, typically colors are very bold and saturated, hence this step. Finally, using the Curves tool, I will enhance the contrast in the high tonal highlights of the photo. That’s pretty much it, in brief. 

At tiltshiftable, we don’t just feature tilt shift photos – though we do have a Pic of the Day feature. We also have mesmerizing tilt shift videos, tips for achieving a convincing tilt shift effect, where to find photos to tilt shift, and much more. 

Patrick Ashley is the author is the founder and chief blogger of (update: site no longer live), a blog dedicated to informing and teaching others about the technique of photographic tilt shift.

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Some Older Comments

  • Linda M April 5, 2012 07:20 pm

    Great article, as usual, I find tiltshift facinating I've just really gotten "into it"!

    First attempt at tiltshift in photoshop
    second attempt

  • hansi trompka December 29, 2011 03:18 am

  • Gavin May 28, 2011 03:12 pm

    So many articles on tilt-shift concentrate on only one aspect of it and in my opinion, not the most important aspect. While a selective narrow band of focus is one property, I find the most useful property and the reason for developing a tilt-shift lens to be its' ability to keep vertical lines nice and parallel with no perspective distortion--as required for architectural photography. To learn more visit:

  • Egil Saeboe May 28, 2011 03:10 am


    I think we are both right. The key issue is experience, not only in making macro images but also in reading them, like from viewing the shows you refer to. So yes, if you at some point are exposed to images of real miniatures, you will later associate the blurred foreground and background with images of small scale objects, thus also get the miniature feeling when seeing photos manipulated this way of full scale objects.

    As to my students I handed out the images without any kind of introduction. I just asked them to tell me what they saw in them. They simply had no experience in making nor reading real miniature images. This may sound strange, yet miniatures are not a very big thing in Norway, not even on children´s television.

  • Brad May 26, 2011 08:26 pm


    From my perspective, your analysis based on communication theory is unlikely, and I think you may be finding what you expect to find.
    I have no background in photography. I first saw this effect in the movie THE SOCIAL NETWORK, used for interstitial shots of landscapes and scullers. It was immediately striking, and I didn't know how to parse it, but the dissonance for me was very clearly based on the perception that I was seeing miniatures, or perhaps a computer generated image, or a regular image post-processed to resemble miniatures, at a scale that should be prohibitive to create. I was probably wrong on all counts (Now that i found this delightful article, I'm guessing it was probably this special kind of analog lens), but, while no one I spoke to could tell me how it was done, they instantly knew what I was referring to when I spoke of miniatures, or scenes that resembled HO gauge train sets. Perhaps we know the visual grammar from children's shows like Mister Roger's and others with train settings, but it's immediately understood, viscerally, though not intellectually. Perhaps you were unconsciously clueing or steering your communication students. Perhaps I was guiding my friends.

    I'm interested in your response.

  • Mosek Klma May 22, 2011 04:44 am

    I love tilt-shift photography, great article. Here is a collection of this type of photo

  • Sandor oroszi May 17, 2011 08:16 am

    @Victor, what an awesome job on your miniatures. They look incredibly model-like.

  • Steve Cooper April 24, 2011 06:05 am

    An interesting idea but I have to say why do it? I ask this because in the past I have tried to do the opposite thing altogether i.e. photograph models with the object of trying to them look real.

  • victor manuel pizarro April 22, 2011 10:15 pm

    Do you like it?

  • Paul April 22, 2011 10:09 pm

    Have read a lot of articles about this in relation to landscape photography. Good post thanks.

  • simon April 22, 2011 01:36 pm

    sorry, but "miniature faking" via the use of Photoshop is NOT tilt-shift photography.

  • Egil Saeboe April 22, 2011 05:26 am

    I´m sorry to say that according to communication theory not everybody will see the objects in these images as miniatures. In fact only photographers that have experience in making macro/extension tube images of small everyday objects associate this kind of shallow depth of field with miniatures right away. Other people simply don´t or they will have to learn to read images this way.
    To put the theory to the test I showed a selection of images like those above to a random selection of 12 of my communication students in upper secondary. Only one mentioned anything about miniatures, and he was the son of an amateur photographer!
    Seeing miniatures in an image is a state of mind. There must be something in the image that triggers this state of mind. Shallow depth of field triggers photographers according to their experience. Suitable adjustments of sharpness, saturation and so on might add to the effect by making real objects look more like toys.
    Take a closer look at the very first image in the article telling yourself that what you see are miniatures, and after a while it looks that way. In fact, as long as you don´t have anything in the image that indicates a certain scale, objects in a photo can be any size! Indeed, we sometimes make sure to have people in an image to really make viewers understand the real proportions of something.

  • dok April 22, 2011 01:39 am

    Your first photo does not work because part of the wagons are sharp while other parts are blured : that does not respect the idea of a real short focal plane.

  • DrPerm April 22, 2011 01:23 am

    How disappointing - I was expecting a guide to tilt-shift photography.

  • Terry Byford April 22, 2011 01:21 am

    Funny, when playing with my 5x4 monorail and MPP MK VIII Technical camera, exactly the opposite was the goal! Then it was all about controlling, and usually maximising depth of field, and correcting i.e. eliminating perspective distortions. Both standards of the cameras employ shift, tilt and swing and extended depth of field was achieved without the need to stop down to diffraction ruining apertures or the need to buy special lenses, as long as the lenses possessed sufficient covering power. Ah, the Scheimplug principle is coming back to me.

    PC, or tilt and shift lenses for 35mm attempt to go some way to achieve what large format cameras were designed for, but only achieve a partially successful result because only the lens on a 35mm camera is capable of movement. The film still remains stubbornly fixed to the focal plane.

    I do possess a 35mm camera bellows unit that does indeed replicate the front and back standards of 5x4 cameras but is of very limited use as there is so much of the unit between the camera body and lens mount on the bellows that only long focal length lenses can be used.

  • Vivian Bedoya April 22, 2011 01:00 am

    Definitely not what I expected to read. Tilt-shift photography - that which is done with an expensive, tilt-shift lens, and image manipulation are two very different things. A better title for this entry might have been "How to Fake Miniature Photography."

  • danfoy April 21, 2011 03:41 am

    I agree with Kazuo on this - some disclosure on which articles are just blatant advertising would be a good way to save time and credibility. This article has literally no content whatsoever concerning tilt-shift photography. 'An introduction to miniaturising effect in photoshop' would be better, and 'Sponsored Post: An introduction to miniaturising effect in photoshop' would be better still.

  • bryan April 21, 2011 01:27 am

    a tilt shift lens is very expensive and has a real purpose for architectural photography. if you looking for focus effects look to post production.

  • Martin Soler HDR Photography April 20, 2011 08:32 am

    Thanks for the tips. I've yet to try this type of photography. But as you say you need to shoot from above which isn't always that easy.

  • Paul April 19, 2011 08:28 pm

    i do it often ...but not with photoshop or not even a special lens ....i do sharpen the crap out of the pic before i do it ...i do use a wide angle lens ...i do not shoot from above ....i pretty much do all the opposite of what you say it wrong ....??????

  • David April 19, 2011 05:02 am

    This article is a rather nice waste of bandwidth. What the first few commenters have already pointed out is true. This is not tilt-shift photography. Yes, you can get the "miniaturization" effect using real tilt-shift lenses but that is not their purpose.

  • Chris Newhall April 19, 2011 03:46 am

    No mention of the Lensbaby?

  • Erik Kerstenbeck April 19, 2011 03:20 am


    Surprised that there is no mention of Lens Baby here

    regards, Erik

  • Jeremy April 19, 2011 01:15 am

    It's not even "tilt/shift effect" - it's "tilt effect", i.e. it has nothing to do with shift.

    This is another fad, like those sickening HDR images. I hope it goes away soon ;-)

  • Mark April 19, 2011 01:13 am

    My attempt at tilt-shift. The Toronto images was taken from above and works really well. The Chicago image was taken from below and still works ok.

    Toronto Transit system

    Chicago L

    Good Photoshop tutorial on how to replicate the effect.

  • Mark April 19, 2011 12:10 am

    I clicked on this link fully expecting to get a tutorial on tilt shift lenses and was slightly disappointed when i was shown how to create a blur effect in Photoshop. Please title future posts with some level of accuracy as to the content of the article. Thanks.

  • Kazuo April 18, 2011 10:10 pm

    I think that this type of explicit advertising can be marked as such. I.e. something like "by guest advertiser".

    Not only we know what to expect, but to protect the advertiser from "flames". I know that the DPS need some ads but using a title like "An Introduction to Tilt-Shift Photography", for me is misleading in this case.

    To add something to the discussion: I learned a lot about TS from the "Tilt-shift: A DIY guide" by Bhautik Joshi ( ). And you get some projects do try at home before expending $2000 in new lens.

  • Kate Mag April 18, 2011 09:50 pm

    Good tips. I always like Tilt-Shift Photography.

  • Neil Hargreaves April 18, 2011 09:29 pm

    I can't help feeling that the "tilt-shift" look is just another passing fad that everyone will be bored with in a couple of years (though it does make for some "cute" time-lapse movies).

    Photoshopped images are one thing, but I'm continually frustrated by the number of photographers who splash $3500 on a tilt-shift lens then "misuse" it by only using it at maximum tilt to create an effect that they could have easily faked in PS. (It's more amusing to see a tilt-shift shot of a bride and groom with crisply focussed faces along with an equally crisp bin in the background!)

    A tilt-shift lens is incredibly versatile, especially if used for its intended purpose. It's a shame to see so many photographs which only use a byproduct of its real function.

  • Kiran @ April 18, 2011 06:34 pm

    Never heard about tilt shift photography before. Looks like an interesting technique.

  • Reid April 18, 2011 03:02 pm

    It's just a site showing people something fun to do with certain photos. Real, fake, either way, not an issue.

  • Rick April 18, 2011 01:16 pm

    Yeah, this isn't tilt-shift, it's tilt-shift effect.

  • George Fragos April 18, 2011 12:27 pm

    I used tilt and shift on view cameras and a shift lens on a Nikon. Normally the purpose is perspective control. For example keeping vertical lines perpendicular when shotting from an off center position. This gimmicky selective blurring has nothing to do with perspective control.

  • chew April 18, 2011 12:04 pm

    I would have loved to hear more about tilt-shift photography in general, like what an introduction should be. Nice tips from the site though.

  • happyspace April 18, 2011 12:01 pm

    how cute!

  • Mark K April 18, 2011 10:55 am

    Sorry to say I found this one too light on details, I've already used the "fake" TS method many times, its nice though not something I'd keep in my portfolio. More novelty than necessity for me personally.

  • Tiffany April 18, 2011 10:21 am

    If you go to the website it does actually say the real reason for using a tilt shift lens. I didn't even see any tutorials though I just scanned the site. They had blogs and videos and pics.

  • mike April 18, 2011 09:59 am

    Just as a point of clarification, this is less about Tilt Shift Photography and more about Tilt Shift Effects in Photoshop.
    Tilt Shift Photography refers to the use of actual Perspective Control Lenses (aka Tilt-Shift Lenses), which are specialty lenses valued for their ability to change the focal plane of the lens so that you get an almost infinite depth of field. They are likewise used for architecture photography, where their specialized optics allow photographers to shoot buildings without getting that perspective taper at the top due to their height.
    The “shrinking” effect is but one of many uses for PC lenses (indeed, it’s actually just the reverse of their ‘infinite DoF’ effect), and while it’s a novel effect to run on certain photos, it’s hardly indicative of Tilt-Shift Photography as a whole.
    For folks who wandered in here looking for stuff on actual tilt-shift / perspective control photography, Wiki and CiC have some great articles on it:

    Read more:

  • Scapevision April 18, 2011 09:41 am

    it doesn't mention it because the whole point of this post is to advertise their website for tutorials to fake TS effect :)

  • mike April 18, 2011 09:32 am

    Just as a point of clarification, this is less about Tilt Shift Photography and more about Tilt Shift Effects in Photoshop.

    Tilt Shift Photography refers to the use of actual Perspective Control Lenses (aka Tilt-Shift Lenses), which are specialty lenses valued for their ability to change the focal plane of the lens so that you get an almost infinite depth of field. They are likewise used for architecture photography, where their specialized optics allow photographers to shoot buildings without getting that perspective taper at the top due to their height.

    The "shrinking" effect is but one of many uses for PC lenses (indeed, it's actually just the reverse of their 'infinite DoF' effect), and while it's a novel effect to run on certain photos, it's hardly indicative of Tilt-Shift Photography as a whole.

    For folks who wandered in here looking for stuff on actual tilt-shift / perspective control photography, Wiki and CiC have some great articles on it:

  • Aparna E. April 18, 2011 09:00 am

    I love this effect! I definitely can't afford a tilt-shift lens, so I use the powers of Photoshop :)

  • Gudrun April 18, 2011 08:47 am

    I own a tilt-shift lens and just want to point out that this article is not in any way an introduction to tilt-shift photography but rather an introduction to post-processing scenes to resemble miniatures. While a tilt-shift lens or effect can create this, there's *far more* to tilt-shift photography as eric mentioned.

  • eric April 18, 2011 07:49 am

    I'm kind of surprised that the article doesn't mention the main purpose of the tilt shift lens; for extending depth of field for architecture and product photography. Its kind of a big deal.

  • Frej April 18, 2011 07:34 am

    Very nice article, and an interesting technique. I've tried a few times myself, but it takes practise. Here's some of my results;