Tilt-shifting a Miniature Alaska

Under normal circumstances, photographing with a wide open aperture will result in a shallow depth of field. However, this effect is not as noticeable for larger scale subjects in the distance, like with landscape photography. Tilt-shift photography is a technique used to achieve very selective focus where it’s not normally possible. Think of it as “large-scale blurrybacking”. 🙂

In the end, it is often used to fake miniatures and, while I have yet to determine the practical application of creating model-looking scenes out of real world photos, I can’t deny the fun I derive from tilt-shifting photos. 🙂

Waterfront in Vancouver, BC

Tilt-shifting with Software


Historically, tilt-shifting is achieved with a special lens that (a) tilts the plane of focus to control the part of image the appears sharp and (b) shifts the lens plane to adjust the position of the subject. And while the science all sounds very technical and well over my head, the important thing to understand is that it basically makes photos look like they’re scenes out of Thomas & Friends. 🙂 And even more important, it’s possible to fake this effect with just a bit of post-processing and without the expensive lens.

There’s a ton of great tutorials, but the gist is:

  1. Simulate a shallow depth of field using a lens blur with a gradient mask, and
  2. Simulate the artificial polystyrene look by cranking the saturation and tweaking the colour curve for more contrast

Ketchikan, Alaska

Bring out the GIMP

Most of the tutorials use Photoshop, but licenses are not cheap by any means. Fortunately, GIMP is a great open-source alternative that won’t cost you a penny.

At some point in the future, I’ll likely post a step-by-step tutorial for the basic and advanced method of tilt-shifting with GIMP. But in the meantime, this Photoshop tutorial also works great for GIMP, with just a couple of exceptions:

Step 3. Photoshop’s “reflected gradient” option is the same as GIMP’s “bi-linear gradient shape” option.

Step 7 and 8. A GAUSSIAN or FOCUS blur should both work, I’ve generally used between 15-25 for the blur radius with either option.

Juneau, Alaska

Alaskan Cruise after my Cosmic Shrinking Ray!


Click on any of the images below to enlarge:

Before After
Cruise Ship leaving Burrard Inlet

Downtown Juneau, Alaska

Fishery at Juneau, Alaska

Across the Gastineau Channel in Juneau, Alaska

Ketchikan, Alaska

Cruise Ship Coasting Home at Dawn

Returning to Vancouver

One thought on “Tilt-shifting a Miniature Alaska

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s