The tilt-shift effect in Photoshop is an amazingly powerful tool that gets no respect. Most people think it’s a funny filter to make miniature effects, but it’s actually a tool that can be used for real work. This filter perfectly replicates the front tilt of a 4×5 view camera. As a food photographer, I can use the tilt-shift effect to keep my main subject in focus and get a nice bokeh in the background.
The surprising thing is that this filter is ridiculously easy to use. When I was in photography school, I spent a semester lugging around a heavy view camera mastering the Scheimpflug principle. With this this straightforward filter, I was an expert in 5 minutes.
This filter works best on the typical menu shot photographed at 45 degrees. For this filter to work, you’ll need to get the main subject completely in focus. The final image should look like a slight downward front tilt has been applied at a large aperture. This will blur the background and place the foreground and main subject in focus.
How to use the Tilt-Shift Effect
Step 1: Duplicate the background
Go to the layers panel, select the background and press Ctrl+J (Win) / Command+J (Mac). This creates a duplicate of the background and sets up a safe layer to work on.
Step 2: Open the Tilt-Shift filter
Go to the filter menu, open the blur gallery, and select tilt-shift.
Step 3: Adjust the focus size
The tilt-shift tool has three main controls:
Focus Size – This is controlled by grabbing and moving the solid white bars
Defocus Strength – This is controlled by moving the blur slider or or turning the wheel in the center heads up display
Defocus Gradient – This is controlled by moving the dotted bars up or down away from the focus area
To set the focus area, move the solid white bars respectively to the top and bottom of the of object that should remain in focus.
Step 4: Adjust the Defocus Strength
To create a pleasant blur in the background that replicates natural bokeh, move the blur slider between 30px and 50px. This is a personal preference so season to taste.
Step 5: Adjust the Defocus Gradient
By default, the top and bottom dotted gradient control bars are equidistant from the central focus point. To create a natural front tilt, the bottom bar should be pulled down to place more of the foreground in focus.
If you would like the look of a an upward front tilt, leave the gradient bars in their default position.
The tilt-shift filter has a few more controls, but these are the main ones needed to pull off the effect. The key to a realistic image is to make subtle changes that places emphasis on the main subject.
Here are a few more examples of the filter in action: