Photoshop tutorial: Add Depth Of Field to a photo using Tilt Shift Blur in Photoshop

Turn a flat photo into a subtly dynamic image with this step-by-step guide.


Looking to add a little more depth to your image? Maybe you’ve shot something on your mobile phone that looks a little flat, or you’ve been shooting with infinity focus on your camera and want to blur out part of the image?

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In this Photoshop tutorial, photographer Tigz Rice demonstrates how to use the Tilt Shift Blur filter to create a little more depth within your image.

STEP 1

First, you’ll need an image to work with. This particular image is from my Iceland trip earlier in the year and was a test shot getting my camera ready to shoot the Northern Lights later that evening (it was not quite dark enough yet, hence the minimal stars!).

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For shooting the stars, I had my lens set to infinity focus, and as you can see this has created a very flat level of focusing, which is sharper on the horizon and a little soft in the foreground.

Lets look at how we can add in a more depth of field without the results looking fake or like miniatures (which is what Tilt Shift is often used for).


STEP 2

First, go to Filter > Camera Raw filter and in the Basics panel add 10% Clarity to give a little punchiness to the overall image.

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This particularly highlights the details around the horizon, the focal point of the image.

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STEP 3

Next navigate to the Detail panel, where you’ll find the controls for sharpening. Increase the Amount slider to 50%, which will sharpen the entire image.

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STEP 4

Then, hold down the Alt key whilst clicking and dragging on the Masking slider to control where the sharpening is applied to.

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Here, I’m looking for the sharpening only to be applied to the land mass and stars, rather than the detailing in the water and generic sky mass, which will be displayed as a black and white mask. Somewhere between 70 and 80% should work well.


STEP 5

While in the same window, I also want to reduce some of the noise in my image created by shooting at a high ISO. To do this, shift the Luminance slider up to between 15 and 20.

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Make any other changes as required in the Camera Raw module, and press OK when done.

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STEP 6

At this point, you can also go in and use the Spot Healing tool to get rid of any small details you’d like removed. Here, I’m choosing to get rid of a couple of small rocks in the water, as well as the light pollution from cars on the horizon.

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STEP 7

To prep the image for the Tilt Shift filter, right click on the background layer and choose Convert To Smart Object.

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This will unlock the image and convert it into a non-destructive layer - which means that if we make any mistakes with our blurring filter, we can go back and change them easily.


STEP 8

Go to Filter > Blur Gallery > Tilt Shift to begin applying the Tilt Shift Blur.

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STEP 9

This should pop up into a new dialog box, and your image should now have a dot in the centre with a ring around it, as well as several horizontal lines over the top.

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The solid lines indicate the area of the image that will stay in focus. Click and drag on the central dot to line up the lower of the two solid lines up with the bottom edge of the land mass you want to keep in focus.


STEP 10

Then, as we want to keep the sky still in focus, click and drag on the upper solid line to drag it completely off the top of the image like this.

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STEP 11

The dashed line controls the transition between the in focus and blurred sections of the image (the wider the gap between the lines, the softer the transition). Here, I’ve dragged this up to the top of the foreground rocks.

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STEP 12

You can also control the amount of blur applied by clicking and dragging on the wheel around the central point. Here I’ve reduced it to about 25% for a reduced blur effect.

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STEP 13

As there is some grain in the original image, go to the Noise menu on the right of the screen and choose Grain from the dropdown menu.

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Using the sliders below, play around with these settings to create a grain pattern that matches the top half of the image. This will help create a more natural looking blur that blends in with the rest of the image.

Once you’re done, press OK to accept the new Blur.