There exist lenses and filters to achieve all kinds of effects in pictures. One type of special lens is a tilt-shift lens, that is used to control the perspective in pictures. If you for example are on ground level and takes a picture of a tall building you will tilt the camera upward and the straight walls of the building will tilt in the picture. With a tilt-shift lens it is possible to optically straighten up this tilt of the walls even as the camera itself is tilted. A side effect of this is that the depth of field in the picture will be placed differently as compared to when you use a traditional lens. This special depth of field can be used to make pictures from the read world look like pictures of a miniature model.
However, a tilt-shift lens is a pretty big investment for us mere mortal photographers compared to its limited area of application. But luckally you do post processing to acheive the same miniature effect in a picture that is recorded with a regular lens - and even with a regular point and shoot camera.
Let's first take a look at a picture of a real miniature model and look at the effect we are trying to acheive. After a visit at Miniature Wunderland in Hamborg, the worlds largest model railway, I have a decent archive of pictures of miniature models.
The depth of field in the picture is very shallow so that the forground and the background are both very out of focus, but even the middleground where focus is is affected. A shallow depth of field, that also sometimes have other directions than what you are used to seeing, is the main ingredience to make a picture look like a miniature model. Most miniature models are viewed from above and it will increase the credabiliy of the illusion if you use a picture that is taken from above looking down on a scene. It is okay if you use a wide angle lens when you take the picture and get a wide depth of field. This gives greater freedom when you start editing the picture. A last detail that can add to the credibility of a picture being of a miniature model is to turn up the colors. A model is typically bright and more animated in the colors than the real world.
On a visit in a rooftop appartment on Ingerslevs Boulevard in Aarhus, Denmark, I had the oppertunity to do a couple of photo sessions from a balcony with a view down on Harald Jensens Plads. The pictures are recorded with a 17mm wide angle lens on a camera with a magification factor of 1.6. The aperture was f5.6.
With a suited picture secured it is time to get it processed through Photoshop. When you work with Photoshop there are a lot of values that are dependant on the dimentions of the picture you are working on. The values I use in the following are based on the fact that the picture I am working on is 1936x1288 pixels.
Depth of Field
First open up the picture in Photoshop, and then choose Edit in Quick Mask Mode.
Then choose the gradient tool, which is set to Reflected Gradient.
Now you want to draw a line vertically in the picture at the location where you want your focus to lie. When you have done this you will get a red marking in the picture that marks how "strong" it is. As the gradient tool is used it has selected with less "force" toward the edge of the mask. What we are after is to blur everything else than what is selected. That way the focus of the picture will end up being where the mask is. Where the mask is more red is where the picture will be more in focus. This of course requires that the originl picture is in focus to start out with. You might have to try this a couple of time before you get the exact mask you are looking for.
Then you can deselect Quick Mask Mode and the red mask will turn into a regular selection.
You can now ope the Blur Effect menu and choose Lens Blur, which is the type of blur we are going to use to get the desired effect.
When Lens Blur is selected a window will open where you can control different settings. I choose that it should use a Hexagon (6 sides) shape - this corresponds to which type of aperture is on the lens you want the effect to simulate and how many blades the aperture consist of. Then I select that it should have an Iris Radius of 38 - but this value is dependant on how big the picture is that you are working on. You have to play a bit with the settings to find a value that is suited for the picture you are working on.
We have now applied the effect that gives the depth of field that we were after to get the picture to look like a miniature model. But there are still a couple of things we can do to increase the credability of the effect.
To make the effect more credible it help to turn the color saturation up a bit. This way the colors in the picture will become a bit exadurated, which is often the case with miniature models. First off you need to remove the selection that you made when you had to do the focus effect. Now you want to work on the entire picture. Then open the Hue/Saturation menu.
As it is only the color saturation we are interested in increasing you only need to set this. It is dependant on the picture you are using how much you should tweak the saturation. For the picture I am working with in this example the value 25 is suitable. You also need to look out that the effect doesn't become too exadurated. If this happens it will give away that the picture is edited and the illusion is ruined. But you have to play with the settings to figure out what suits your picture. I have seen examples elsewhere that uses a value of 40, but that was a bit too much for this picture.
Finally we will adjust the curves to increase the contrast a little bit. Choose Curves in the menu.
The rule of thumb when working with curves in pictures is that you should adjust the curve to an S shape. This will make the light colors a bit lighter, the dark colors a little darker and the colors in between will stay unchanged. The same applies for this picture, but we only need a slight adjustment.
Now the final picture is done and we have a picture that looks like a picture of a miniature model.