Digital Darkroom; Blur Gallery Tilt Shift

The Digital Darkroom is a series of posts aimed at beginners and those interested in Digital Photography and Editing. In previous weeks we have looked at basic adjustments, curves, editing colour with the HSL/Color panels, black and white toning, split toning, local adjustments, sharpening, noise reduction and Lens Correction and Camera Calibration in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw. Moving into Photoshop we have looked at the program’s layout,basic adjustments to light, basic adjustments to colour, basic black and white adjustments, Basic Sharpening, Basic Noise Reduction, Creating Presets and Actions, Basic Masks, Making Selections, Refining Selections, Using the Pen Tool, Clone Stamp, Heal Tool, Patch Tool, Content Aware, Smart Objects, Basic Blur Filters, Field Blur, Iris Blur and this week Tilt Shift Blur.
If you wish to check out previous posts in the series you can do here.

In today’s post for The Digital Darkroom we are looking at two words; Tilt Shift. The tilt shift effect also known as the miniature effect became quite cliché with both those created in Photoshop and those created with a lens baby lens. Adobe knew what people wanted and they added a tilt shift blur filter, making a lot of work flows using quick masks, gradients with gaussian blur obsolete.
The effect still looks good and can also be used not just to create a miniature effect.


As with the other blur gallery filters we have been looking at, this filter also works by applying pin or multiple pins to an image. As with iris blur there is a boundary to the blur and a transitional area. The area between the two solid lines is the sharp area and the area between the solid and dotted line is the transitional blur. Everything outside of the dotted line is blurred to the set strength. By holding the two white anchors you can rotate the tool.


There are two options when applying a tilt shift blur; first the blur strength  and the second is distortion. Blur strength is quite straight forward, it sets the strength of the blur. Distortion sets how much distortion there is in the blur. This is set to 0 as default and increasing distortion adds more, you can also reduce the distortion in the blur as well.  This can create some interesting effects.

In the top bar there is the option of focus. This is set to 100% as default and in reducing Focus you soften the focus of the sharp area. There is also an option to save the mask (the gradient of the blur and the blur area) to a channel.  This option is great as you can then select this channel later to apply some adjustments selectively.


This is where most people would stop as the miniature effect has been successfully applied. I however like to go one step further as it feels unnatural for the base of the building being in focus and the top out of focus, when they are both are on the same plane of focus. I tend to look at the image and think about which areas need to be in focus to create a more natural looking image.

With my example the two skyscrapers need to be brought back into focus. Also because of the softening I could quite easily make the base of the Marriott hotel a bit sharper. This can all be done using the filter mask.

This once again shows the strength of apply filters to smart objects and the power of masking, something we should try not to forget when editing.


What was the use of adding the mask to channels?
You can use the channel, created in the blur gallery, as a selection to apply selective layer adjustments. With this image I created a vibrance adjustment layer, increasing the vibrance and saturation. Adding the mask from the channel allowed me to selectively apply this adjustment to the blurred area.  I also used the mask on a curves layer to darken the blurred area and to bring the focus to the buildings.

To use the mask created in the filter gallery, click on the channels tab and then ctrl+click on the channel. This will create a selection area that you can then add as a layer mask.

When to use Tilt Shift Blur?

As with all filters the use is dependent on the image and the tilt shift blur does not work with all images. I have found the images for the tilt shift blur are landscapes taken from a high view point with a slight downward angle. I also feel that it is good not to have the subject strait on but slightly to the side to create a 3d feel. I can also see the use of the filter with food and still life photography to simulate a soft shallow focus image.
The tilt shift blur filter on its own creates a nice effect of blurring, and could be used to create a blur vignette. If you want to create a miniature feel, I would recommend additional masking of areas that are non the same focal plane to get a nice pop out effect.

Marriott hotel Warsaw Tilt Shift

If you have any questions or comments please use the comment box below, all are welcome as this series is designed to help people learn how to use Photoshop and Lightroom.

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