Fun Techniques: Miniature Models

By Jack Berglund

Creating a miniature effect, where a normal scene is transformed to look like a photo of a toy model, is surprisingly quick and easy and can add a new playful dimension to some of your photos. What better subject to turn into model than the striking, imaginative, almost dreamlike buildings of Antoni Gaudi.

Gaudi was a Spanish architect who did most of his work in Barcelona at the start of the the 20th Century.  His Modern Catalan creations were not always well received at the time but there is no doubt he left his mark on the architecture world and on the city of Barcelona.  I was in Parc Guell in Barcelona last week and found myself looking down on a crowd of people at the foot of two fairy tale Gaudi buildings and immediately though this would be the perfect image to try a miniature model effect.

How to Create the Miniature Model effect?

This is most easily done using Photoshop although can be done in free alternatives such as GIMP with a little bit more effort. The basic idea is to mimic a very shallow depth of field using a lens blur effect to make things appear small then saturate the colours to give the toy look.

In Photoshop CS 2 or newer:

1) load your image and enter quick mast mode by pressing Q or selecting the quick mask icon

2) select the gradient tool and select the ‘reflected gradient’ mode

3) draw a gradient from the point you want in focus to a point above or below the focal point (approximately vertical ).  The end point will determine where the transition to the blurred area will complete

4) Turn of the quick mask (press Q), and select Filter -> Blur -> Lens Blur

5) Here you can adjust the blur settings before applying.  You may need to invert the effect (select the invert checkbox) so that the outer part of the mask is blurred not the middle.

6) I strengthened the amount of blur slightly by increasing the radius in the Iris section but the default settings are generally quite good.  Apply the filter

7) Increase the saturation (Image -> Adjustments -> Hue/Saturation) for a more toy like appearance

Thats it!  You can play around with placing the focal point in a different place and adjusting how quickly to fade into the blurry regions until you get the image how you want it.  This effect works better with some images than others.  Images taken from a birds eye view tend to work best (not directly overhead but looking down at an angle).

Other posts in the Fun Techniques series (click the image to view):

Fun Technique: Silky Waters

Fun Techniques: Time to Get Flashy

Fun Technique: Panning

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