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Deke's Techniques is a collection of short Photoshop and Illustrator projects and creative effects that can be completed in ten minutes or less. The series is taught by computer graphics guru Deke McClelland, and presented in his signature step-by-step style. The intent is to reveal how various Photoshop and Illustrator features can be combined and leveraged in real-world examples so that they can be applied to creative projects right away.
This week I'm going to take you on a journey to the fake world of miniatures. Specifically, we'll be taking this street scene and shrinking it down to this final composition right here. Now, it's not a matter of reducing the size of the image; that would just give you fewer pixels. Instead, it's 100% a focus trick. So whether you want to pretend that the city has shrunk or that you have grown to become super huge, here: let me show you exactly how it works.
The first step is to render the scene in plastic using a combination of Reduce Noise, Median, and Smart Sharpen--all of which can be applied as Smart Filters. So, starting with this flat photograph, I'll go over to the Layers Panel flyout menu and choose Convert to Smart Object. Then I'll rename this layer "traffic," or something like that. Then go up to the Filter menu, choose Noise, and choose Reduce Noise. And here's the values that I recommend. Go ahead and crank that Strength value up to 10, because we want to average as many details as possible.
Take Preserve Details down to 0%, because we want everything to turn to plastic. Now this is strictly a luminance modification and we don't want our colors bleeding all over the place, so take that Reduce Color Noise value down to 0%. And finally, I went ahead and took my Sharpen Details value up to 75%. Now, we don't want to overwrite the default settings, so click on that little floppy disc icon and name these new settings Plastic and then click OK. And then make sure to change the Settings option to Plastic so that the default settings are preserved, and click OK.
And you'll see that Reduce Noise is applied as a Smart Filter here inside the Layers Panel. Now that's not quite enough of a plastic coating, so to enhance the effect, go back to the Filter menu, choose Noise again, and this time choose the Median command. Now, if you're working in a very high-resolution image, you might want to take that value to 4, or even 6, pixels; however, this is a fairly medium-resolution file, so I'll set my Radius value to 2 and click OK. Now both Reduce Noise and Median soften the details inside the image. To firm them back up, go up to the Filter menu, choose Sharpen, and now choose Smart Sharpen.
Then I want you to set the Amount value to 200%, the Radius value to from anywhere from 1 to 2 pixels--once again, depending on the resolution of your image. Because we're sharpening to account for the effect of other filters, set Remove to Gaussian Blur. Then click OK to apply the filter. Now the next step is to create a depth-of-field effect, but before we do so, we'll need a filter mask, and we're going to create that filter mask inside the Channels panel. So go ahead and switch to Channels. Then drop down to this little page icon at the bottom of the panel and Alt+Click or Option+Click on it.
And we'll call this new alpha channel "blur mask" and click OK. Now initially the filter comes in as black, which really doesn't matter. We'll replace the black with a gradient in just a moment. Turn the RGB image on, so you can see the filter and the mask at the same time. Then switch to the Gradient tool, which you can get by pressing the G key, and make sure that your foreground color is white and your background color is black. If it's the other way around, just press the X key to switch them. And then I want you to make sure your gradient is set to foreground-to- background and switch from this first setting, Linear Gradient, to the fourth setting, Reflected Gradient.
And that way we'll draw a gradient that goes from white to black in two opposite directions. Now bear in mind that we're going to set things up so that anything that's white inside the mask remains in focus and anything that's black goes out of focus. So I'm going to start at the hood of the forward bus here, and I'm going to drag upward to about this location. And I'm pressing the Shift key as I drag in order to constrain the angle of my gradient to exactly vertical. And then I'll release. Now, you may go your own way. You may want to draw a slightly diagonal gradient. It really depends on the angle of your scene.
Now, to give you a sense of what I've just done, I'll turn off the RGB image so that we can view the gradient by itself. I'll press Ctrl+0, or Command+0 on the Mac, in order to fit the image inside the window. And you can see that I've created a gradient that goes from white at about this location to black up here at the top of the image, and it also darkens up toward the bottom of the image. All right, let's switch back to the RGB image by clicking on it. Then go back to the Layers panel. And I'll press the M key to switch back to the Marquee tool. I'll press Ctrl+Plus, or Command+Plus on the Mac, to zoom in a little bit as well.
Now, the final filter that I want to apply is this one here. It's under the Filter menu. You choose Blur and you choose Lens Blur. Unfortunately, this is one of the rare filters inside Photoshop that is not applicable to Smart Objects, so what we have to do--after escaping out there--we need to go ahead and take this traffic layer and jump it, by pressing Ctrl+J, or Command+J on the Mac. And then I'm going to right-click in an empty portion of this duplicated layer, and I'm going to choose Rasterize Layer in order to convert the Smart Object to static pixels.
Now, because we've created a copy of the image, the original Smart Object remains intact. Just go ahead and turn it off. If you like, you can collapse the layer as well, by clicking on that up arrow icon. Then, with the static pixel-based layer selected, go up to the Filter menu, choose Blur, and choose Lens Blur, which is now available. Now by default the Radius value is set to 15. I recommend you take that value up to thirty pixels, or even higher, so adjust to taste. The other options you can leave set to their defaults, with the exception of Depth Map.
You want to change the Source option to that gradient mask that we just created in the Channels panel, blur mask. And then, because everything is upside down--notice that I'm blurring the central portion of the image and I'm leaving the top portion of the image in focus--I'll go ahead and switch the Blur Focal Distance all the way from 0 up to 255, which tells Photoshop to protect white--which is 255, by the way--and go ahead and blur black. Then click OK in order to apply that filter. Now the final step is to add a little bit of saturation.
After all, these are brightly painted little toy cars. So I'll go to the Window menu and choose Adjustments in order to bring up the Adjustments panel, and then I'll create a new vibrance layer by clicking this first icon in the second row. And I'm going to increase both the Vibrance and the Saturation values to 30, as you see there. Again, you can go your own way if you like. And that is the final version of the image. I'll go ahead and press the F key a couple of times. Just to give you a sense of what we've been able to accomplish here, this is the original, obviously real photograph, and this is the Mr.
Rogers tiny-town version of the scene, thanks to a trio of Smart Filters, a blur mask, and the Lens Blur filter working together inside Photoshop.
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