Tilt-Shifting Paintings

June 22, 2017 0 By jstefanphoto


I saw some Van Gogh paintings with tilt-shift techniques applied. They were so  cool I though I’d try it myself. I went to the Detroit Institute of Arts this morning to shoot some paintings to apply the tilt-shift technique to.

Tilt Shift Lenses

A physical tilt-shift lens (very expensive) allows for selective focus. Tilt-shift lenses have been used historically with medium and large format cameras for architectural photography, keeping vertical lines vertical. The selective focus capability of a tilt-shift lens allows some great opportunities for artistic photography.

Before we start, you will need access to Photoshop and, although not completely required, Lightroom. There are other applications that can do this, such as GIMP and/or Pixelmator, but I prefer Lightroom and Photoshop.

There’s a real abstract intimacy, the sense of another world when tilt-shift works on a painting.

Here’s another example:

And another:

Tilt-shift tends to miniaturize subjects, which, in a painting, makes it come alive.

How-To Example

Here’s how you do it, step by step.

First, you need the right photograph. A straight, eye level, medium to medium close up does not do well. A wide angle, elevated image where the camera is looking down is the best.

Here’s a reasonable, simple candidate painting:

We will wind up with this:

First, load your image into Photoshop. If you also use Lightroom, adjust exposure, clarity, white balance and the like before editing your image in Photoshop.

Next, duplicate the layer (control-J on a Mac) and click in the Quick Mask icon.

The Quick Mask button is right below the color selector (second from bottom on the tool bar). Make sure the Gradient tool is selected and Reflected Gradient is selected. That’s the second from the right icon on the top bar.

Here’s the tricky part, selecting the area to stay in focus. I start around where the focal point of the image, as I see it. In this case, it’s the men in the boat. The Reflected Gradient selection starts at the center.  Put the cursor over your subject and drag down. Once you release your mouse the selected area will be red, like this.

Now, click on the quick mask to de-select it. You will see marching ants around the area not selected by the Quick Mask. This is the area that will be blurred.

Now, go to the Filter menu and select Blur, then Lens Blur. This is another area you need to play around with. Play with the blur settings until you get what you want. Once you’re done, hit OK. Even on a really fast machine this takes time, so be patient.

Once the lens filter is applied, the marching ants are still there, so go to Select menu and Deselect All.

That’s all there is to it. You’re done. Like any other method using this technique takes a practice. Repeated here is our finished product:

Some of your results will be good, some will be bad. It’s not the technique, it’s the photograph. If the original photograph does not lend itself well to tilt-shifting, then there’s nothing you can do about it. Try it yourself and have fun.