Let’s have a little fun tilt-shifting San Francisco‘s Pioneer Monument. I choose the Pioneer Monument for a couple of reasons: I look down on it out my window at work, and I find it offensive with its glorification of Frisco fat cat robber barons and its demeaning portrayal of Native Americans. Ready? We’ll want to keep the pigeonshit on main figure’s head in focus. Here goes. Wheee!

tilt-shifting san francisco's pioneer monument

Wasn’t that fun? Many people see this effect as creating the illusion of a miniaturized landscape. You can do it, or something very like it, with an extremely expensive camera called a “tilt-shift” (whence the name of the effect). Or you approximate the effect in five or ten minutes of Photoshop.

The technique is described, with a few variations, in many places around the web. You can check it out on your search engine. Or, you can just read on.

First, you have to go into quick mask mode.

tilt-shift quick mask

Then, with your colors selected as black/white (you might want to invert them so that white is foreground and black background) you select the reflected gradient tool (the fourth gradient over).

tilt shift gradient

Now just stretch a line from the focus point in whatever direction you like (experiment). I find a short stretch is better than a long one. Your image will look something like this:

tilt shift mask gradient

Switch back out of quick mask mode and apply a blur (you might have to invert your selection). You will read that you should use a lens blur, but a Gaussian blur works just about as well (I don’t have lens blur as an option on my home version of Photoshop, where I still haven’t upgraded from 7.0).

Then I just adjust the levels, curves, and saturation, and apply a high-pass sharpening, as I’ve explained before.

Let’s recap. Some tutorials are frustrating because they leave out some small but critical step along the way. So there can be a value to detailed instructions. On the hand, it can be difficult remembering eighteen or nineteen discreet steps to an operation. It’s worth understanding its basic principles. What we’re doing here is applying a gradient mask and blurring the result. Remember that and you can play around until you get the effect you want.

Here’s a before and after:

tilt shift before after