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The Tilt-Shift Miniature Fake Technique in Photoshop CS: A Simple How-To · by Simon Mackie

Check out this image of trains at Southern Cross Station in Melbourne, Australia:

Model trains?

It looks a lot like a picture of model trains, but it’s not! I’ve used a few simple Photoshop tweaks to get an otherwise normal image of a train station looking like a model. You might have seen photos manipulated with this technique on sites like Flickr. It’s quite cliched, but it’s a fun technique to play with, and best of all, it’s actually really simple to do.

Note that to follow this tutorial, you’ll need a copy of Photoshop CS or CS2, as the lens blur filter used is only available in that piece of software. However, the methodology outlined will also work in other software packages, like the GIMP, with a bit of effort.

This technique is a software manipulation that replicates a technique using expensive tilt-shift lenses (hence the name) to get the focus sweet-spot required. It works because our eyes are trained by seeing images with small depths of field like this on typical macro photos, so see the objects as being miniature.

To make a sucessful tilt-shift miniature fake, you need to:

  1. Pick a suitable source image. This technique works much better with images that could be of models anyway. So ideally you need to pick a subject which people readily identify as being a toy or model (so trains and cars are good, people are not usaually so great)
  2. Manipulate the photo in Photoshop to give it a really shallow depth of field (a focus “sweet spot”), which is what we’re used to seeing in typical macro shots of models, which is why this technique is so effective
  3. Adjust saturation and/or curves to give the image a more “platicky” feel

Ok, so here’s my dull source image:

Trains at Southern Cross Station

What we’re going to do is use Photoshop to apply a blur to the image to mimic the effects of a short depth of field. The Photoshop CS filter lens blur is the one we’ll be using here, but you could also use Gaussian blur, although that one doesn’t seem to give as good results.

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