Tilt-shift effects depend on two things – an understanding of how the illusion is created and the right kind of subject. The illusion is caused by a defocusing effect before and behind the subject. This is what we’re used to seeing in close-up photography, where the depth of field is limited and only a narrow region of the subject is sharp. When we see this applied to a full-size subject, it makes it look like a table-top model – but only if the subject is right.
Actually, this is the tricky part. The tilt-shift effect only works well when you’re looking down on a scene at the right angle. It also has to be the kind of scene you might see in a model – people in the distance work especially well, as do cars and houses. This shot of Clovelly harbour should work pretty well.
The rest is straightforward. All you need is a technique for blurring the foreground and background while keeping a central strip of the image sharp. You can do this manually in a program like Photoshop, using the blur tools, layers and masks, or use specially-made tools like the Tilt-Shift filter in Snapseed.
Other programs offer similar tools, like Focal Point 2, for example – part of OnOne’s Perfect Photo Suite.
01 Tilt-Shift option
The Snapseed window displays a selection of filters on the left side of the window and the image you’re working on at the right-hand side. The Tilt-Shift filter is at the bottom of the list. This is the desktop version of Snapseed, but the mobile version works in just the same way.
02 Tilt-Shift basics
When you select the Tilt-Shift filter in Snapseed, it creates a horizontal zone of sharpness in the centre of the image. Already you can see the tilt-shift effect, but you’ll need to do some fine-tuning to match it perfectly to your image.
You can move the whole effect up and down by dragging the central pin (1) and change the height of the zone of sharpness by dragging up and down the inner set of lines (2). The outer set (3) controls the area over which the focus fades out – the further away they are, the softer the gradation. Over on the left (4) are tools for, amongst other things, adjusting the degree of blur, contrast and saturation (making the colours ‘pop’ can make the scene look more like a model.
04 The finished result
It’s not quite the perfect picture for this effect – ideally, it should have been shot from higher up, so that the camera’s looking down on the scene from a sharper angle – but it still gives a good guide to how the effect works.