Category 'Compositing'

Dubrovnik tilt-shiftContinuing on from last week’s miniature theme, another trick for making big things look small is the tilt-shift technique. Tilt-shift works by selectively blurring parts of your photo to give a very narrow band of focus, which you’d usually only see in macro photos. This has the effect of making a life-size scene look like a small scale model or toy. It’s most effective when used on cityscapes or urban scenes that have been photographed from above to give the kind of bird’s eye view you'd normally have when looking at a toy. But, like all good techniques, it's also become popular in wedding and Instagram photography because by adding blur to a scene you can really draw the eye to your subject. There are dedicated tilt-shift lenses that create this effect in camera but in my opinion they’re just not worth the expense for a gimmicky technique that can easily be created in Photoshop in less than 10 clicks. And I daresay there’s an app for that too.

How to photograph subjects for tilt-shift

Unlike all the other photography tricks I’ve covered in this blog creating a tilt-shift effect is super simple and doesn’t require any fancy in-camera tricks. While there’s no set rules for tilt-shift, your primary motive is to make a scene look toy-like so here’s a couple of tips to help achieve this effect.
  1. Try and find a simple, yet interesting scene. I like to include some people, vehicles or activity in the shot because that gives your photo interest and helps tell a story. My favourite tilt-shift examples are those taken at famous monuments or sporting arenas.
  1. Shoot a scene that has lots of depth. This is why tilt-shift scenes are usually photographed from an elevated position so there's objects of interest in the foreground, middle ground and background. Some will suggest that tilt-shift doesn't work on scenes that are photographed from directly in front or directly above but if you have enough depth and interest in your image it doesn't matter where it's shot from.
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How to edit a tilt-shift photograph

  1. Load your photo (or photos if you’re playing around with a few) into Photoshop. Make sure the image is cropped how you desire. [caption id="attachment_2018" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Original photo - Dubrovnik Original photo - Dubrovnik[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2015" align="alignright" width="51"]Quick Mask tool Quick Mask tool[/caption]
  1. Enter Quick Mask mode by pressing Q or using the Quick Mask tool in your tool palette. This tool makes your selected areas turn red so you’ll easily be able to see your area of focus when you draw in your gradient.
  1. Press G to load your gradient tool or select it from the toolbar. In the tool's options bar select the 'Reflected Gradient' which is the 4th icon along.
[gallery columns="2" size="medium" ids="2016,2017"]  
  1. Take a good look at your photo and decide exactly where you want the focus to be before you draw in the gradient.[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2035,2036"]   The first point of your gradient will be the area that is most in focus and the centre of your focus area. Draw a line upwards from this point to where you want your focus to start to fade away. Because you’ve only drawn the top half of the gradient, the tool then analyses this area and reflects it to the bottom portion. When drawing your gradient, keep in mind how focus works so if a subject is straight on to camera, its whole surface should be in focus and everything in front and behind will be out of focus. When you’ve drawn your gradient a red bar will show you the selected focus area and everything that’s not red will become blurry. It’s difficult to get this right on your first go so keep redrawing the gradient until you are happy.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2019,2020"]  
  1. Exit Quick Mask mode by pressing Q again and the red bar will disappear and become a selection.
[caption id="attachment_2021" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Your selected focus area Your selected focus area[/caption]  
  1. Make sure your layer is selected.
  1. Go to Filter>Blur>Lens Blur
[caption id="attachment_2022" align="aligncenter" width="242"]Select Lens Blur Select Lens Blur[/caption]  
  1. Play around with the Radius slider to create your blur. I haven't noticed much difference by changing the other sliders. Click OK when happy.
[caption id="attachment_2023" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Lens blur sliders Lens blur sliders[/caption]  
  1. Press Ctrl + D to deselect your focus area and check your results.
[gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2024,2025"]   There’s a couple of extra steps you can take to really sell your miniature effect. Because scale models are brightly coloured it helps to saturate the colours of your image and add some contrast.
  1. Go to Image>Adjustments>Hue/Saturation and boost the saturation of your image to taste.
  2. If you’re familiar with S curves, add a curves adjustment layer and create an S curve to boost contrast. Otherwise a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer may be easier to use and control.
[caption id="attachment_2026" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Subtle saturation and contrast added Subtle saturation and contrast added[/caption]   And that’s it! Another effective technique to add to your post-processing arsenal to give some creative flare to your shots. Here's a few more examples I've created from photographs I took during a trip to Europe in 2013. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2027,2028,2030,2031,2032,2033,2029,2034"]  

About this week's image 'Hats off to Venice'

'Hats off to Venice' is an idea I've had for quite some time that I thought would work well to demonstrate the tilt-shift effect. It's a composite image created out of a photo of Venice taken from a cruise ship with the tilt-shift effect applied, a sky from an image of Stonehenge, a balloon lantern shot in my backyard, a photo of me shrunk down to fit inside the balloon and a falling hat. I wanted the result to look like a vintage postcard so I added a bunch of textures, some colour toning and tattered edging. Bon voyage! [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2041,2037,2038,2039,2040"]  

A little known fact about me is that I’m a bit obsessed with miniatures. There’s just something about dioramas, terrariums and the work of artists like Thomas Doyle, Slinkachu, and Lori Nix that thrill me beyond explanation. Because of this I went through a fun phase of photographing Smurfs and other toys around my house. But now with the help of compositing I can use myself instead of figurines to insert into small scenes, instantly turning everyday objects into magical worlds. There’s not a single object that doesn’t become significantly more interesting by the addition of a tiny person interacting with it. [gallery size="medium" columns="4" ids="1995,1997,1996,1994"]   For example, I am staring at a water bottle. If I put a small person in that scene I could show them jumping to try and reach the lid, I could place it on its side and have a person drinking or bathing in the spill of water, I could have someone trapped inside the bottle. Instantly, one of the most dull objects in the world becomes something fascinating. It’s a really fun exercise and I encourage you to give it a go. Even the least creative people would be hard-pressed not to come up with SOMETHING.

Tips for photographing a miniature

At its simplest a miniature is created out of two photos – one of your small scene and one of your person. The biggest problem you’re likely to face is that of depth of field. When you shoot a small object up really close your focus area becomes quite narrow. To get that same narrow focus on a full sized person you need to shoot with a very small aperture, say 1.8, which isn’t always available on inexpensive lenses. (Except the nifty fifty which should be in every photographer’s bag.) This is the most common error you see in miniature photos— when the person is way too sharp for the scene—and even the best photographers sometimes get this wrong. It’s a fine line because you want your subject in sharp focus to draw the eye to them but you also want your subject to look like they belong in the scene or the realism falls apart. So there’s two ways to get around this: The first is to shoot your small scene with a narrow aperture to get as much focus as you can, so f/16 for example. Then shoot your subject with a wide aperture of say f/5.6 so their eyes are in focus but their edges are a little blurry, but it’s a guessing game to get these settings right. The second method, which I prefer because it doesn’t need to be so exact, is to shoot both photos as in focus as you can and then use blur filters in Photoshop to selectively create your own depth of field. When adding your Photoshop blur, zoom right in close to the image because it’s much easier to see how blurry something is up close, then match the blur between your two images accordingly. Always get a second opinion on whether your person fits in the scene before you release the image to the world because your work starts to lose context when you’ve stared at it too long.

How to photograph a miniature

Start by setting up your scene. I say “setting up” because miniature scenes are rarely ready to be photographed as is. You may need to dust your items, or move your items to a new background to avoid distracting elements, or position your item where it’s getting a nice spray of window light, and then you’ll want to add all the little touches that make your scene interesting and help sell your story. [caption id="attachment_1998" align="alignright" width="300"] I couldn't use a telephoto this time because my scene (bottom left) was too close to a wall.[/caption] A macro lens isn't necessary but if your scene is quite tiny it would certainly help you get in close enough. If space allows I like to use a telephoto lens positioned far back from the scene but zoomed right in close because this gives good focus where I want it and a nice blurry background to remove distractions. Find your focus. You can’t exactly have someone stand in the scene for you while you find focus so put something in your scene to focus on. A small human shaped toy is ideal because it helps later to find the right sizing for your person and also because the shadow it casts can possibly be used in the final image, but do remember to remove the toy from the scene once you’ve found and locked your focus so you can take your main blank shot. [caption id="attachment_1999" align="aligncenter" width="300"]My scene - I focused on the ground where I knew the girl would go. My scene - I just focused on the ground where I knew the girl would go.[/caption] When you’re happy with the scene you’ll need to shoot your person. To preserve your sanity my suggestion is to try and shoot them in the same area so the light matches and you won’t have to do a tonne of work in post to make them fit. You’ll also need to shoot them from a similar angle. If you shot your scene from above you’ll need to shoot your person from above. When starting out I’d advise shooting both your person and your scene directly on. For this week’s image I shot my scene very low to the ground but still slightly above where my subject would be so I also shot the image of myself close to the ground but slightly above (although in retrospect I didn’t get high enough). To keep things easy for yourself have your subject pose in a way that is mainly flat to the camera. For my image this week I had myself laying straight and parallel to camera so I knew my whole body would be in focus. Had I laid with my head close to camera and my feet far away then I would have had some real issues with focus. [caption id="attachment_2000" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Subject for 'The Wrong Dress' The subject shot[/caption] Be mindful of where your subject is positioned to avoid any colour casts. For example, the ground of my scene was primarily brown rocks and mulch. I couldn’t fit myself into that same space to shoot the subject image so I had to shoot myself lying on grass nearby. I knew that grass would not only give my skin a green colour cast but that parts of it would obscure my body and since there’s no grass in my scene these would need to be removed. To avoid unnecessary work I instead lay on a brown coloured towel so the colours would match. This sort of forethought is so important when creating composited images to save headaches later. If the subject will be interacting with an object in the miniature try and recreate this in the full size scene, for example, if I want my person leaning against that water bottle then have them lean against a bookcase or a wall.

How to edit a miniature

Open your chosen scene image in Photoshop. I’d then recommend opening your subject image and converting it to a smart object by right clicking on your layer and choosing ‘Convert to Smart Object’. Photoshop discards pixels from an image when you shrink it in size so that if you decide you want to make it bigger again you will have lost detail and resolution. Because you’ll probably be resizing your subject layer a lot to get them to fit your background you want to do this non-destructively. Smart objects allow you to resize as much as you want without losing quality. Add a mask to your subject layer which should be placed above your background layer. Create a rough mask at first by using a black brush on the mask to paint around your subject. This way you can see if the pose is working and play around with the sizing without going to too much trouble. When you’re happy, fine tune your mask using whatever selection tool you desire. Although it’s not the quickest or easiest method, the most accurate way for me is to zoom in really close and paint black carefully around the subject’s edges, switching to a white brush to add pieces back in if I make a mistake. If you’re new to my blog I cover masking in more detail in previous tutorials.

Adding shadows

Assess your scene image to see what shadows are being created and how they are falling. If you shot a version of the scene with a human shaped toy, add that image to the layer stack (above the background but below your subject) and mask in the toy’s shadow. Otherwise you'll need to create the shadows yourself. I've touched on how to create shadows before but they're really, really hard to get right and I am definitely no expert so I'd highly recommend spending a little time with Mr Phlearn and probably every other shadow tutorial you can get your hands on.To avoid shadows altogether as I like to do, shoot your scene and your subject in very diffuse lighting so there's little to no shadow although you should still darken the ground and the subject where they are touching.

Adding blur

The method I use to add blur to my subject layer to make it match the background's DOF (or vice versa) is to duplicate the layer (Ctrl/Cmd J), go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and, while zoomed in, move the blur slider until the subject's sharpness resembles that of the background. Then I add a layer mask to the blurred layer and use a soft brush to remove it from the areas I want kept sharp.

About ‘The Wrong Dress’

Homemade bowerI’ve always been fascinated with Bowerbirds and in particular the Satin Bowerbird which collects blue objects to surround their bower. Having never seen one in person I researched pictures on the Internet and created my own bower using sticks collected from my backyard, stuck into polystyrene and surrounded with mulch, and even with opposable thumbs it's still nowhere near as good as the beak created version. I then had great fun collecting blue objects from around the house. Those with a keen eye will spot a smurf amongst the collection. The ridiculous irony in this is that a week later I was holidaying at Binna Burra in Lamington National Park and actually got to see a REAL bowerbird bower. Oh life, you’re so hilarious. [caption id="attachment_2002" align="aligncenter" width="200"]Bowerbird nest A real bower with a poor blue collection.[/caption] The scene is a two shot expansion stitched together. I've had a terrible time making the girl fit and only just now realised that it's because she's too flat so I need to warp her midsection so it sits lower. However because I've done so much work to the image I'd practically have to start again to fix it. It's a good lesson that not every image will work so don't feel too blue about it (badum tish). The wonderful thing about compositing is that you're no longer limited by size so, not only can you make people small, you can also turn water features into waterfalls and rocks into mountains so don't forget to utilise this handy trick in your future work.


How to create a tilt-shift photograph.

Continuing on from last week’s miniature theme, another trick for making big things look small is the tilt-shift technique. Tilt-shift works by selectively blurring parts of your photo to give a very narrow band of focus, which you’d usually only see in macro photos. This has the effect of making a life-size scene look like a small scale […]


How to photograph and edit a miniature person.

A little known fact about me is that I’m a bit obsessed with miniatures. There’s just something about dioramas, terrariums and the work of artists like Thomas Doyle, Slinkachu, and Lori Nix that thrill me beyond explanation. Because of this I went through a fun phase of photographing Smurfs and other toys around my house. But […]