Tilt-Shift Simulation in Lightroom

Lightroom Secrets is pleased to welcome guest blogger, Kim Dalmeijer,

Kim Dalmeijer is a freelance photographer based in the Netherlands. Favors portraits and studio work from glamour to commercial. A longtime Lightroom fan, but keen on applying as little gimmicks as possible to keep the photography real. Kim keeps track of his work (in Dutch) via his website (www.kidogo.nl) and via Twitter as @KidogoFoto.

Just recently I was watching a program on dutch television where the cutscenes were shot as tilt-shift videos. Every real-life situation that was shot in these videos seemed to be some miniature world, thanks to the tilt-shift effect. Viewing these videos triggered me to remember an attempt I made a couple of years ago to use Lightroom to convert regular photographs into (simulated) tilt-shifts. I never really managed to get the right effect - but now that Lightroom had grown better I guessed I could give it another shot.

The final result was this - it's a photo I took of the city streets of Paris way back in 2002.

Click for full size image

Considering the original was like the one below, the end result is not bad at all, is it?

Click for full size image

The fun thing in Lightroom is that you can make a reusable preset of about anything, including all the settings you'll be applying in this tutorial. So your final step should be to go into the Develop module, find your presets in the left panel and click the small plus next to the word 'Presets' to add your very own tilt-shift preset. I'll help you through that step at the end .


How you start and how you go about it is key with these simulated tilt-shifts. First off, you'll want to start out with a photo that is taken from a high point of view. Photos that are taken at eyelevel will simply not give you the effect we are trying to achieve - the miniature world. So a view of the sea with a few ships in it, taken from a cliff a few hundred feet up will do wonders when converted to tilt-shift, but the same shot taken from the beach will only look weird and not make you believe you're looking at a miniature world.

So, look into your personal photo collection and find something like a landscape or cityscape that you took from up high. It'll be good to get you going. If you can't find anything, just use Google Images to find what you need.


Now here's what to do, step by step.

Import the photo you selected into Lightroom using the import module and make sure you get the white balance, toning and lens corrections right so you're photo is in 'optima forma' before you continue.

Now that you're ready, let's get to it.


When we look at miniatures, the sharpness and color intensity is always higher than compared to a look into the real world. This might have to do with the fact that there's not so much atmospheric distortion between us and what we are looking at, simply because the distance to a real miniature is only a fraction of that to the real-life thing. You should also think of the fact that miniatures (real miniatures) are mostly hand painted with bright colors, so that's what we'll try to mimic.

Go into the Develop module, look in the right hand panel for 'blacks'. Set this value somewhere between 5 and 10 to get a bit of the haze out of the picture.

Click for full size image

Next, find the Presence subsection and set vibrance somewhere between 20 and 40, and Saturation at +100. Play around with these values, but not too much. You'll try to find what looks most like hand-painted miniature stuff. Some exaggeration is usually good here.

Click for full size image

Well, that took care of the colors. Now on to the rest.


Since we want to give the viewers the idea that they have their noses right on the subject of our photo, we'll sharpen the picture a bit.Find the Sharpening subsection in the Detail rollout of the right hand panel. Set Sharpening to 100, Radius to something between 1.5 and 2.0, and finally Detail to 45 or something in this neighborhood.

Click for full size image

After you have finished this tutorial you can still play around with these values to figure out what you like best. Lightroom saves each change independent of any other change so one does not affect the other. This means that no matter what you change afterwards, it can be done without messing up other things you've done to your photo. Which, of course, is a very good thing!


Confusing, I know. We've just sharpened the whole image, and now what do we do? Blur! That's right! But only small sections. This is where we finalize the tilt-shift effect and where we mimic the behaviour of a real tilt-shift lens. The top section and bottom section of the image is what we'll blur, and this is how; Find the Graduated Filter just below the histogram in the right hand panel.

Click for full size image

Once clicked, you'll see a new roll-out appear.

Click for full size image

In this roll-out, set Sharpness to -100, which is equal to blurring as much as Lightroom allows us to blur. Make sure all the other values (Exposure, Brightness etc.) are set to zero. Now click the square box:

Click for full size image

In the pop-up that appears, set both the sliders for H and S to 0. This makes sure the Graduated Filter is not introducing any color into our image. Now, to apply the filter, drag your mouse through the image from somewhere in the middle downwards. You'll instantly see the top half of your image become blurred.

Click for full size image

Do the same for the bottom part by clicking near the bottom of the image and dragging upwards. After you've applied these Filters, you'll be able to edit or adjust each individual one by clicking on it's placeholder.

Click for full size image

To maximize the effect, add another one to the top covering about half of the one that's already there, and do the same with the bottom Filter. You'll now have four Filters applied in total.

Click for full size image

Finally, add a Graduated Filter to both the right side of the image and to the left side. Let these to be very shallow and maybe adjust the Sharpness value not to -100 but rather -50. Orient these vertically so they blur the sides of the image like in the example here

Click for full size image

Now you'll have to give the image a very good look. You'll notice that only a small area in the bottom half of the image is sharp and everything else is blurred. Make sure that this sharp area is the area of focus you are aiming for. Move the filters up and down, narrow or widen the sharp area by moving the filters and keep on it till you feel that you got what you want.

Did you achieve the miniature effect? Good! Now let's wrap this one up with one final adjustment.


By applying a vignette we'll mimic the effect of a macro lens and really empower the sensation of a close-up photo taken of a miniature. I'm not saying that this is what good macro lenses do, but our eyes are easily fooled by something like adding this vignette. Plus, I just love adding vignettes to anything I do in Lightroom !

Go into the right hand panel, all the way down and look for Effects. Below the Post-Crop Vignetting subsection you'll find a value called Amount. Set this to anything between -15 and -40. Go for what most pleases you. I personally like to apply a rather thick vignette, usually I choose values close to -30.

Click for full size image

That complete's the tilt-shift effect! How do you like it? Good enough to save as a preset?


Now, go into the left hand panel and find the Presets. Click on the small round cross.

Click for full size image

The New Develop Preset dialog screen pops into view. Enter a name for your preset and check the boxes like in my example.

Click for full size image

Click Create and your Preset will be available to you via the left hand panel at any time.

Now that you got the hang of it, create a few more presets with varying areas of focus. Change the area of focus between each preset from somewhere in the middle of your photo to way down to the bottom of it. I have four of these and one of them usually works fine for any picture I have.

I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial, and I'd love to see what you've done with it so feel free to send me some of your work!