Kyle Hixson
Feb 21 · 5 min read

My first exposure to Selective Focus Editing was through a baseball advertisement, similar to the image above. I remember the image giving me pause. These are clearly baseball players, but why do they look so adorably tiny? This little trick earned a few extra cycles of brain power, which led to me reading the full copy. I was engaged.


  • Articles see a 37% increase in engagements from targeted customers if the article is optimized by adding more compelling visual features.
  • Articles see a 94% boost in views when containing a relevant photograph or infographic compared to articles in the same category without an image.

There you have it. Compelling visual features can be key to success. Therefore, it is important for those producing visual assets to develop a wide variety of unique methods to decisively grab audience attention. One such method is Selective Focus Editing.

Let’s look at how Selective Focus Editing can trick our minds and how we can apply it to our visual assets. But first, let’s briefly set the record straight on some terminology.

Selective Focus vs. Tilt-Shift Photography

A Specialized Tilt-Shift Lens
  • Tilt-Shift Photography: the original method of focus manipulation, using a specialized lens that — you guessed it — tilts and shifts. This method does not necessarily produce the “tiny” effect but can under the right circumstance.
  • Selective Focus Editing: the method of applying blurring techniques to a photograph with digital manipulation tools. This method has greater flexibility than its analog cousin.

Recently there has been an ongoing debate among photography experts as to where exactly the line is drawn between these two methods. Fear not, I am here to clear it up once and for all (quotation formatting to increase subject matter authority):

“Tilt-Shift Photography is done through a specialized lens, e.g. hardware. Selective Focus Editing is performed in post-production, e.g. software.”
- Me

How does Selective Focus Editing Work?

Excellent question!

Selective Focus Editing is typically used to make a subject look like a miniaturized version of itself. Taking photos of tiny things is called Macro Photography. Regardless of how photo-savvy a person is, their brain has a baseline knowledge of how Macro Photography works (whether they know it or not).

Check out the macro photo below:

Photo by Jill Heyer on Unsplash


See how our ladybug friend is in focus, but the top and bottom of the photograph are out of focus? That’s determined by the depth of field, which is the area in front of the lens that falls within acceptable focus levels.

Now let’s look at an example of a fake miniaturization created with Selective Focus Editing.

See? Your brain was tricked into thinking that the subjects in our photo are tiny. How? Because the (fake) depth of field told you it was so.

To summarize, when we use selective focus techniques to miniaturize our subject, we falsify a depth of focus that closely aligns with what our brains recognize to be macro photography. This ultimately tricks the mind into thinking that our subject is much smaller than it actually is.

So How Is It Done?

Let’s get into the nitty gritty.

Above is an original, unedited photograph of the BMW headquarters in Germany, shot at f/7.1–1/500s. You’ll notice that most of the photo is in focus, or more to the point, the photo has a very deep depth of focus. The areas of focus are illustrated below:

The green represents our focus. The red portions fall outside of acceptable focus. Note that the building’s focus doesn’t gradually fall into red like the rest of the shot. Why? Because it’s a giant, vertical structure that doesn’t follow the geography of the land behind it. The entire building, from top to bottom, is (for our purposes) an equal distance from the camera and fully within the photo’s depth of focus. This is the key to pulling off digital miniaturization.

The entire building’s surface shares a single distance from the camera; its distance does not match that of the gradually receding landscape. Miniaturization’s very essence is a capitalization on this natural discrepancy.

The photo below is what it looks like when the building’s focus is not treated independently to that of the receding landscape.


Note that the top portions of the building’s focus fall off along with the rest of the photo. This does not trick the mind into thinking the subject is a miniature, this tricks the mind into thinking it forgot to put in its contact lenses.

So, what would the focus look like on a properly miniaturized photo?

Here we have successfully truncated the photo’s plane of focus to trick our brains into thinking this is a product of macro photography. The subject just barely fits into the depth of focus and the rest gets fuzzy very quickly. The result is a photo that appears to be shot from a very close distance with a wide-open aperture, which is often what our brains identify as macro photography.

The Wrap Up

Will these digital manipulation techniques replace our need to dedicate time and energy on producing solid copy or locking down appropriate ad placement? Of course not. All the familiar rules of the game are still in play.

However, the next time you’re racking your brain to come up with that perfect visual asset to capture audience attention, maybe you’ll remember selective focus editing.

…maybe you won’t think big, you’ll think small.


Stories about startups, technology, traction, and design from Tradecraft members

Kyle Hixson

Written by

Growth @ Tradecraft


Stories about startups, technology, traction, and design from Tradecraft members

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