Join Ben Long for an in-depth discussion in this video Creating the toy effect, part of Foundations of Photography: Specialty Lenses.
We created this toy cityscape earlier using a tilt-shift lens. By throwing the depth of field way out of whack, I got a strip of focus right here in the middle, and because everything at the top and bottom looks out of focus, our eye interprets it as a very small, miniature scene that we're looking at. Shallow depth of field to our eye is an indicator of scale, so when we greatly reduce depth of field, it changes our sense of how big something is. A tilt-shift lens is a big heavy lens to carry around and honestly, how often do you need to make something look like a toy? Fortunately, you can do a pretty good reproduction of this effect in Photoshop, or any image editing program that gives you the ability to blur an image with some level of control.
Here I have the same scene shot without the tilt-shift lens, so I've got the exact same angle on the shot, but I've got full depth of field all the way through. I've also got some lens flare problems because the sun was setting quickly and I was shooting with a wide-angle lens. I kind of like them. I'm going to just keep them. It's really hard to remove lens flare anyway. So what I would like to do is blur the top and bottom of this image to create that same type of effect. Let's go for a minute back to the tilt-shift image and look again. Oops, that's not it. That's it. So you can see, blurry here, blurry, blurry, blurry, less blurry, less blurry, less blurry.
Sharp, sharp, sharp, sharp, sharp, sharp. Starting to get blurry again, blurry, blurry, blurry, blurry and back out to here. And the blurriness is ramped. It's not uniform down to here. It's really blurry here, getting less so down to here. No blur, then starting up again. So all I need to do is re-create that selective blurring effect in Photoshop, yeah just that. Actually, it's pretty easy. What I'm going to do first, after I have done any tone and color corrections that I might want to do, is to duplicate my image layer. I want two copies. My goal is to create a copy that is blurred, and I'm going to leave the unblurred copy sitting below it, and then I'm going to create a mask that lets me selectively show some parts of the blurred image and other parts of the sharp image.
So I need to now blur this copy, so I'm going to go up here to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. There are a number of different blur filters. Gaussian Blur works fine for this effect. How much to blur is kind of up to you. You can slide the Radius slider around to get different amounts of blur. I don't think I want it so blurred out that I can't tell detail. If we go back and look at our original--or not our original. If we go back and look at our tilt-shift version, we see that we do have some detail left in there. So I'm going to pull this way back, maybe to about there.
If you think about when you look at something up close, your depth of field doesn't go that shallow. So I'm going to take it to about there. It's better to err on the side of a little bit not enough. Too little I guess would be the best to say that. I can also attenuate this blurring effect later. Now what I need to do--let me show you my layer stack here. I've got this image, which is blurred. I'm going to just label that as such. If I hide it by clicking on the eyeball, I see the sharp version down below. So my image is not actually sharpening up; it's just the blurred version is being hidden.
So what I need now is a mask that I can use to control which parts of the blurred image are going to be seen, and I can get one of those by clicking on this button right here, the one that says Add Layer Mask. And it sits down at the bottom of the Layers palette there. I click that and I get this white box. This should already be familiar to you, using these layer masks like this. You've probably used them in adjustment layers. Where the mask is white, that part of the blurred image is going to show. So what I want to do is fill this so that I have white at the top and bottom and a strip of black in the middle, with a nice gradient between the two.
And I have my Gradient tool right here, which is going to let me do that. I've got black and white selected as foreground and background. But I need to make a very important change up here. By default, the Gradient tool is set here; I want it over here on reflected gradient. And let me just drag out here a gradient from top to bottom. I don't know if this is going to be right, but it's going to let you immediately see what kind of mask I'm getting. I'm getting a little strip of white at the top, blending to black, and then blending back to white. And you can see the effect starting to happen.
I've got some blurring up here and then a big area of sharpness, and then it's going back to blurring. So the tool is working. I just got to find the right place to drag. And this is kind of trial and error. And actually, that's looking pretty good. Look at my mask again. Strip of black across the middle. Again, where it's black, the corresponding part of my image is not showing. So I'm getting sharpness through here and blurriness in here. I like that. I might try one more. I can always undo if I don't like this. I'm going to drag this a little bit farther, and that gave me a little tiny bit of extra blur down at the bottom.
So, here is before, here is after. All I'm doing is hiding that blur layer. I need, I think, to see the traffic in focus. So let's go back and look at our tilt-shift version. Well, of course the traffic is different. No, it was blurry; the tilt-shift version was even blurry in here. Okay so that's looking pretty good. Here in Photoshop that's blurry. This was a little bit blurrier in the tilt-shift version, so I'm going to try again here. There we go. That's better. I'm getting a little more blur up here on this building.
It's a little soft in here, but I think that's okay. Now, if I wanted, I can actually go in and manipulate this mask by hand using the paintbrush. Let's say I did want to sharpen up these details in here, which may not be entirely accurate from an optical perspective. But if I wanted to sharpen these details up, I could get some black paint and paint in here, just to ensure that that part of the blur layer is not showing, and I think that's working a little bit better to give me my effect. So you can see what I've done here is I've painted a little bit of black on there, which is letting the sharp part show through.
I could go in and retouch my mask in a lot of different ways that way, dropping in a little bit of blur, a little here, a little bit of blur there, adding some sharpness here and there simply by carefully obscuring my blur layer. So this is a very easy way of creating that toy tilt-shift effect. Actually, some cameras now have this built into them. Some SLRs and point and shoots will automatically apply this random blur to an image to give you that toy look. But this is a nice easy way to get it using any image editor that lets you add blurs on a gradient, and it's a lot easier than carrying a tilt-shift lens around.
The course begins with a look at several common and inexpensive lens attachments, from polarizers to neutral density filters. The course then explores ultra-wide angle and fisheye lenses as well as ultra-long telephoto and macro lenses. The course concludes with a look at tilt-shift lenses, which are useful for architectural photography and special effects, and at offbeat lenses, such as Lensbaby and Holga attachments.
The course also contains Photoshop postproduction advice and examples that illustrate the creative possibilities that an expanded lens collection provides. And because some specialty lenses are extremely expensive, the course also contains advice on renting gear.