My Tilt-Shift Instructions for GIMP

Filed Under Computers, Linux, GNU & FOSS, Photography on April 16, 2008 at 8:18 pm

In my first article on simulating tilt-shift miniature faking with the GIMP I linked to instructions from Gimparoo!. Firstly, these instructions are no longer completely correct on the latest version of the GIMP because some of the menu sequences used have changed. Secondly, I’ve been looking at other sets of instructions on the web for doing this with PhotoShop and comparing them to the Gimparoo! instructions (particularly these instructions). What I’ve found is that the Gimparoo! instructions are not entirely complete so I’ve decided to write my own.

As usual I want to stress that I am not making any claims that these instructions are in any way definitive. There may well be WAY better ways of doing this. What I’m saying is that this is the best way I’ve found of doing it so far and that it works for me.

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First, lets look at my raw image. This is not an image of mine but one Allison Sheridan from the NosillaCast podcast was nice enough to allow me to use. She took it last summer while on holidays in Italy.

Tilt-Shift Photography Demo - raw image

The first thing to note is that a dramatic cloudy sky is not good to have on a TSP shot. It will ruin the illusion! Also, you need to have a point of focus in the image where there is something interesting happening which will serve as the point where the artificially thin depth of field will be centred. For both those reasons I’m going to start by cropping the photo to an area centred around the church square. To do that just choose the selection tool, select the area you want to keep and then go to Image -> Crop to Selection.

For the effect to work best we should scale the image to the size we want to use it at (I’m opting for a width of 1024px). To do that go to Image -> Scale Image ... and enter the width you want and click Scale. Apart from your chosen width or height all the rest of the controls can be left at their default settings.

Tilt-Shift Photography Demo - Scale Image

The sharper your image is at the point you’ll be using as your focus the better the effect will be. If your original image is a little soft I’d recommend applying an un-sharp mask by going to Filters -> Enhance -> Unsharp Mask .... Again, the defaults should be fine.

Tilt-Shift Photography Demo - Unsharp Mask

So lets see where that leaves us so far:

Tilt-Shift Photography Demo - Cropped & Sharpened

The next phase in the process is to apply the blurring that will artificially produce a shallow depth of field. To set this up we need to do a few things. We start by creating a new transparent blank layer called ‘Mask’ by choosing Layer -> New Layer .... The settings for this layer should look like this (the width and height will probably be different, leave them at their default values):

Tilt-Shift Photography Demo - Create New Layer

Next we need to set this layer up as a masking layer by right-clicking on the layer in the Layers Pallet and then choosing Add Layer Mask. (Before you do this you should make sure you have black set as the foreground colour and white as the background colour.)

Tilt-Shift Photography Demo - Add Mask

In the resulting dialogue box you need to select White (full opacity).

Tilt-Shift Photography Demo - Add Mask Step 2

Next you need to select the blend (AKA gradient) tool and ensure it is set to the default gradient of FG to BG (RGB). Then you need to set the shape to Shape to Bi-linear. The blend tool details should look like the following if you have it configured correctly:

Tilt-Shift Photography Demo - Blend Tool Configuration

Before we go any further make sure you have the Mask layer selected as your current layer. Now it’s time to get creative! We need to choose our point of focus in the image and then drag a line from there with the blend tool straight upwards till the point where you’d like the deep out-of-focus region to start. You won’t see much happening on the screen. If you’re very observant you’ll notice that the gradient has now been drawn onto the thumbnail of the mask in the Layers Pallet:

Tilt-Shift Photography Demo - Layers Pallet Showing Blended Mask

Note that if the point you’ve chosen for the focus of the image is not on the level then you should not drag straight up but rather perpendicular to the slope of the ground at your focal point.

Now you need to turn this blend into a mask by right-clicking on the Mask layer and selecting Mask to Selection.

Tilt-Shift Photography Demo - Mask to Selection

At this point you will finally get to see where your blurring will come on your image. If the selection hasn’t come where you want, undo the last two steps (Edit -> Undo) and try again until you’re happy.

Now you need to select the Background layer before we can apply the blurring. To apply the blurring go to Filters -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur .... This will pop up a window where you get to configure the blur. Conventional wisdom seems to be that a Blur Radius of 15px works best.

Tilt-Shift Photography Demo - Gaussian Blur

Now we’re getting closer. Lets have a look at where we are now:

Tilt-Shift Photography Demo - The Image After Blurring

At this point we’re clearly getting close but we’re not quite there yet. There is one more step that we definitely have to take and one that may also be helpful. We definitely have to push up the colours to give the whole image a more surreal feel and it may also be helpful to tweak the curves a little to boost contrast.

To boost the colours we use the Hue-Saturation dialogue which can be found at Colors -> Hue-Saturation .... What we want to do here is to increase the Saturation. Accepted wisdom seems to be that a value in or around +40 should work best.

Tilt-Shift Photography Demo - Boost Saturation

Finally, it might add a little to your image to boost the contrast slightly by going to Colors -> Curves ... and setting a slight S-curve to boost the highlights and darken the shadows. You’re looking for a curve something like this:

Tilt-Shift Photography Demo - Curve to Boost Contrast

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is it! You can now save out your image and enjoy! Here’s the end result of my work on this image:

Tilt-Shift Photography Demo - The Finished Product
Click to Enlarge


25 Responses to “My Tilt-Shift Instructions for GIMP”

  1. Tilt-Shift Photography With the GIMP : Bart Busschots on April 16th, 2008 8:21 pm

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  5. NosillaCast @ on May 5th, 2008 3:57 am

    [...] real photograph of a real life scene from up above and make it look like a scale model. Bart put a great tutorial on his website of how to create this illusion using the GIMP. I tried to follow them using Photoshop Elements but [...]

  6. createmo on November 2nd, 2008 3:08 am

    Thank you for your website ;-)
    I made with photoshop backgrounds for myspace or youtube and ect..
    my backgrounds:
    Hope you had a good day and thank you again!

  7. The Baron on November 19th, 2008 4:30 pm

    Excellent tutorial, thanks for providing an updated set of instructions for the Gimp. I also recommend the Lens blur plugin found here:

    I think it gives a better result than the Gaussian blur (it does work in Windows).

  8. Engage « Themountainman’s Blog on November 23rd, 2008 11:44 pm

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  9. matthijs on February 23rd, 2009 6:25 pm

    Thanks for sharing, it worked :D

  10. i_shot_that on June 15th, 2009 1:56 pm

    Thanks for the tutorial! I always wanted to try this. Here is my first attempt, posted to flickr.


  11. Atlanta_GA on June 30th, 2009 1:05 am

    Thanks for this tutorial. Just got back from Paris, and have a nice view from the effiel tower:

  12. Kylie on July 19th, 2009 10:48 pm

    Thank you for putting this up with very detailed instructions! I sometimes have a hard time putting all of the steps together in other tutorials but this made it very easy for me. Here is my result:

    I mentioned this tutorial in the description:)


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  15. Frank on December 30th, 2009 9:26 pm

    This is the best tilt-shift tutorial I’ve seen so far, so thanks! :oD Most tutorials show how to add the depth-of-field illusion, but your tips on cropping and color help out a lot and really make the difference between a “wow” photo and a “umm.. did some noob try to do a tilt-shift effect?” photo, which is what most other tutorials yield…

  16. Rick on February 23rd, 2010 4:08 am

    Very cool! I need to try this out some time.

  17. Loews on September 23rd, 2010 5:08 pm

    Awesome, this was really great.

  18. paul on October 17th, 2010 9:35 am

    Thanks for this. A very nice shot of Siena too.
    BTW as with everything nothing is 100 % that way. A dramatic sky can be effective too! Heres one done with tiltshiftmaker ( I will now re-do with GIMP)
    Dolomites in Italy.

    A question- can this technique in GIMP be applied as a batch ? I want to do a time lapse movie with this. But applying one at a time to 1000+ images
    will be boring at the least.
    All the best


  19. Bart B on October 17th, 2010 2:05 pm

    Hi Paul,

    Glad the instructions were useful!

    I know it is possible to batch process with the GIMP, so I imagine you could create a filter or a script or something to apply this effect to thousands of images, but I’ve never done it myself, so I’m afraid I can’t be much help there. If you do succeed, please post a link here, I’d really love to see the resulting video, I think it’ll be very cool!


  20. MarxM on December 10th, 2010 5:08 am

    Easier way to do it: apply color effects first. Duplicate layer. Sharpen top. Blur bottom. White to black linear (or appropriate) gradient layer mask on top layer. Boom. For added effect, apply some vignetting or add a more vibrant blur to bottom layer by duplicating sharpened layer, bringing up brightness on blur, duplicate above blur, and lower opacity on duplicate.

  21. Bart B on December 10th, 2010 8:37 am

    Fantastic, thanks MarxM, that does look a lot simpler!


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  24. Adam Macer on April 12th, 2011 12:35 pm

    Thanks very much for posting this – just followed the instructions and got a great result. However I’d like to point out a problem in your end result.

    The angle of view is quite shallow so I would expect to see all of the face of the buildings at the back of the square in focus not just the bottom.. they’re equally distant away so it doesn’t make sense that they’re not in focus.

  25. Cool Tilt Shift images | Tilt Shift The World! on August 6th, 2011 3:07 pm

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