Tilt-shift or PC-E lenses work by using two types of movements: rotation of the lens plane relative to the image plane, called tilt, and movement of the lens parallel to the image plane, called shift. Tilt-shift lenses can be used for architectural photography in avoiding convergence of parallel lines. Some photographers also use these lenses for shooting portraits as they can isolate their subjects easily by blurring-out negative space.
One of the most popular ways photographers are using these lenses is to make a scene appear as if it’s a miniature model. This is done by photographing a scene from above in a typical angle one would view a toy scene. These lenses are expensive and take time to learn, but you can do a pretty good job faking the effect by simply using Photoshop and an easy trick that only takes minutes.
First open an image that you’ve taken from a higher altitude. You want it to appear as if you are looking down on the scene. Here I’m using a photo I took last year at Lake Como in Northern Italy. It helps for the image to have something of interest taking up a small location that will be in focus. I’m going to want the town circle close to the lake, where there’s greater dimension to the buildings to be where I want the effect to take place.
Start by pressing the “q” button to enter Quick Mask Mode. Then press the letter “g” to use the gradient. In the Gradient Options in the upper-left make sure you are using a Reflected Gradient as seen here.
Now hold down shift and starting from where you want the center of your focused area, draw a straight line vertically as far as you want the focused gradient to go from your center. Remember that too much area in focus will lessen the effect while too little won’t be as interesting, so it will be a good idea to play around with this technique. When see how easy it is, you’ll have no problem experimenting. As you can see here, half of my gradient is from the base of the green tree in front of the tower to just below the white villa on the hill. Remember your line only makes up half of the gradient because it’s “reflected.”
When you finish drawing your vertical gradient and let go you see the mask here in red. Because it’s a gradient mask, the red area and your mask will not look as if it spans all the way to the end of your vertical line.
The default setting in Lens Blur works pretty well depending on the resolution of your photo so play around with the Radius slider to change the amount of the effect. Next you can use Image>Adjust>Hue/Saturation and up the saturation a little until it resembles a colorfully painted model to give it added effect.
The whole process took about three minutes which is a great alternative if you want a miniature effect and cannot afford $2k for a fancy lens. Now you can have BIG fun making things look really little.