Tilt shift effects are all the rage right now, either as tools within image-editing programs or built directly into the camera. They deliberately defocus parts of the image to create the look of old-fashioned lenses, highly-controllable studio or architectural lenses or, in the case of this Focal Point 2 tilt shift technique, they make a real-world scene look like a miniature model.

This miniature effect works because we’ve learned to associate extremely shallow depth of field with close-up photography. But, more than most imaging techniques, this one requires exactly the right kind of shooting angle and subject for the illusion to be complete.

First, you need to be shooting downwards at an angle from an elevated viewpoint. This is needed in order for the shallow depth of field effect to be convincing, and it’s also the angle you tend to view models or ‘dioramas’ from. Second, the subject itself needs to be the kind of thing you’re used to seeing in models.

Focal Point 2 tilt shift

This shot looks ideal. It was taken inside a shopping mall, so there are no trees or other natural features that might not look right when ‘miniaturised’, and the human figures could easily look like tiny models.

01 Pick a preset

Focal Point 2 tilt shift

You have to start somewhere, so I’ve started with OnOne’s Debigulator preset, since the name suggests it’s designed for the kind of effect I want. This places a single rectangular Focus Bug in the centre of the screen. It’s not so easy to see here, so I’ve circled it in red. There’s no obvious tilt shift effect yet either, so I’ll need to do some manual adjustments.

02 Moving the Focus Bug

Focal Point 2 tilt shift

I’ll start by dragging the Focus Bug into the correct position, and I’ve chosen two pedestrians near the bottom centre of the frame as my focal point. They’ll be in the plane of sharp focus while everything nearer or further away will become progressively more blurred.

You’ll notice as you drag the Focus Bug that the area it’s affecting is indicated by a rectangular grid overlaid on the image. You can use this to help you position or rotate the focus bug. It indicates not just the area that will be sharp, but the whole transition zone as the Focus Bug blends in the blur.

03 Adjust the size

Focal Point 2 tilt shift

I could see from the previous step that the Focus Bug was too wide and that the blur effect wasn’t coming in soon enough, so the next step was to make the Focus Bug narrower, and you do this (and make other Focus Bug adjustments) using its ‘antennae’. These are the control handles sticking out of the sides, and the one I want here is the top one (circled in red). I’ve dragged it closer to the body of the Focus Bug to make the effect narrower, and you can see that the Focus Bug grid now ends just over half way up the frame.

04 Blur and feather

Focal Point 2 tilt shift

I also want to adjust the amount of blur and how smoothly it’s blended in with the sharp zone in the centre, and for this I need the Blur Amount/Feather antenna sticking out of the top right corner of the Focus Bug at an angle.

This does two jobs not one. Dragging it outwards away from the body of the Focus Bug increases the blur amount; dragging it closer (which is what I’ve done here) reduces the amount of blur.

The feathering is adjusted by changing the angle of the antenna. You drag it anti-clockwise the increase the feathering effect or clockwise to decrease it. Basically, this controls how quickly details go out of focus either side of the plane of sharp focus created by the Focus Bug.