A True Perspective: Photographing Buildings - Digital Photography School
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A True Perspective: Photographing Buildings

In some ways the wide angle end of a digital camera’s zoom lens can be more of a disadvantage than a help, especially when it comes to shooting subjects that are straight up and down. Like buildings.

So you stand on the street, line up the picture, try to get all of the building into the frame and you often find you have to tilt the camera upwards to get it all in. Oh! Oh!

City Buildings.jpg

So of course, the laws of optics intrude — bigtime! — and you get perspective distortion.

At this point it’s of no help to point out that some guys and girls with their ultra-smart SLRs can slap on a special perspective control lens to fix the distortion. No help! And besides, have you checked out the price of these specialist lenses?

So back to your digital camera. And you shoot the shot. You get home, download the shot — and all the verticals are leaning. But it’s nice to know that the fix for your vertical woes is waiting for you — right in your computer, with the help of some image manipulation software.

Most image editing programs offer a perspective or distortion control effect. So you have only to open the image of the building in that program, select the effect — and do your business.

City buildings corrected.jpg

Tricks of the Trade

Be careful. Don’t overdo it. Take some care when applying perspective change; don’t leave the picture looking more distorted than it began.

When shooting a building, try to shoot from as elevated a camera position as you can find. The benefit will be less work later in software.

When shooting the original picture and knowing that you will alter the perspective later in software, allow a little more room around the edges of the picture, so you have working room when the sides are pinched in. The shot used in this exercise was shot a little too closely; the final, corrected image is narrow as a result. The sharp-eyed will notice that there is also a little distortion on the edge of the left building as it bows out; that’s in the shot, caused by the wide angle of the zoom. The good news is that this can be removed — to some degree — with the Spherize filter in Photoshop.

Read more on this topic at How to Overcome the Problem of Converging Verticals

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Barrie Smith is an experienced writer/photographer currently published in Australian Macworld, Auscam and other magazines in Australia and overseas.

  • http://Www.chrischarlesworth.co.uk Chris Charlesworth

    But wide angle distortion can also be used to exaggerate the angles and curves of a building to dramatic effect. Have a look at my architecturals on my website.

  • Jeff Plum

    A perspective control lens is cheaper than Photoshop. :D

  • Matt

    But not cheaper than GIMP! Everyone in the digital photo world seems to forget about it. If you haven’t tried it you definitely should! Many PS features available all for 100% free. I use it all the time and love it.

    http://www.gimp.org

  • Alvaro Flores

    I´m not a photographer but an architect, and really disagree that when photographing architecture you always want to avoid the perspective distortion. As Chris said, a nice perspective can emphasize the perception and the character of the building as well as its spatial relations, otherwise -as in your example- it will become flat and unreal as an artistic rendering (which nevertheless can be very useful for other purpouses)

  • http://www.onegoodphotographer.wordpress.com Bridget Casas

    I did an image of a building on my blog. I think there is still a little of a bow in it, but I worked pretty hard on it and the results look pretty good. You can see it here: http://onegoodphotographer.wordpress.com/2009/05/13/a-study-in-perspective/

    While you are there, take a look at some more of my photos!

  • http://edu-perez-en.blogspot.com Eduardo Pérez

    Whenever perspective correction is mentioned, Hugin comes to my mind. Even if its main purpose is panorama creation, there are several tutorials available about how to use it for this task.

    BTW, Hugin is free!!!

  • http://www.ilanbresler.com Ilan

    I think that this tip true not only to “building” photography.
    Working and fixing lens distortion is true to many types of photography (but of course, it is super important in architectural shots… and portraits.)
    If the issue it NOT a “commercial architectural shots” then when taking picture of building, same is in any other photo – The most important part is be original. Try to take another angle, of even a more abstract view when you combine the city “jungle” and squeeze into the frame.
    For example a shot I took in New York – http://www.ilanbresler.com/2008/07/simcity.html

  • http://www.fkfoto.com Florian Knorn

    A couple of months ago I also wrote a blog post on this topic, re-iterating (and giving examples for) the basic three possible you have for preventing perspective distortion, check it out :-)

    My favourite technique in that respect is not mentioned here: If there’s enough space, shoot with a wide angle, but keep the camera horizontal, i.e. go portrait but put the building towards the top of the frame — and then crop…

  • Lorenzo Reffo

    Fixing the distortion on an image like that should only be used if you shoot a building frontally, in my opionion.. In the original picture above, for example, lines seems to converge giving your shot a great perspective!

  • http://www.MoreSatisfyingPhotos.com Jeffrey Kontur

    I think this could have been a good article. As it is, it comes across more as a sketched out idea for an article. This is basically 200 words or so to say that it’s possible to correct perspective distortion but without giving any actual instructions or guidance for how to do so. Grade: C-

  • http://londoneater.com Kang

    I think distortion is not neccesarily a bad thing all the time. The exageration could help create a nice effect and sometimes ‘breaking the rules’ of composition can lead to interesting results, at the end of the day, its a matter of perspective.

  • http://www.classyshots.com Michael VanDeWalker

    I love my tilt shift lens.

    That being said, this discussion isn’t much different than ones talking about “Should I blur the water in a waterfall shot?” or “Should I use a narrow DOF and blur the background?”.

    What do you want it to look like?
    What does your client want the image to show?
    Do you want the image to show what was really there?
    Do you want an abstract look?

    What ever blows your dress up! Go for it.

  • Yvonne

    At least in the examples provided, the original photo seems stronger compositionally and certainly more interesting than the “corrected” one. You could say that both are “distorted” but the distortions in the first photo are “natural” ones, while those in the second just look odd. For example, in the second photo the tops of the building don’t narrow off but in real life it would look as if the top of the building was narrower than the bottom. Perspective and all that. The eye and brain are quite capable of making the necessary compensations.

  • Celine Ellis

    Strick me down if you think im wrong – but i far prefer the first image to the second in the examples here.

  • http://www.classyshots.com Michael VanDeWalker

    Something to remember on this as far as shooting it with a TS lens and “correcting” it in post that is when you do it in post you lose part of the image as you end up basically having to crop part of it out. You don’t have that problem with the TS lens. To me it makes it much easier to frame the shot and keep interesting elements on the sides that help lead you into the center of attention.

  • http://www.lensartwork.com Chris Horner

    I actually agree with many of the above posts, and also prefer the first image to the second one. Yes the distortion can be corrected, but many times you may not want to. IMO the second image looks too ‘rigid’, and I immediately noticed distortion in that pic. But hey, if you or your client wants it, then cool. Otherwise, I like the distortion to make a powerful image. “Technically perfect” may not always be desireable. Just my $.02

  • Romaing

    why do I like thedistorted one better ?

  • http://www.chrischarlesworth.co.uk Chris Charlesworth

    Just to emphasise my earlier point now I’m at a pc, I agree that in some circumstances things have to be straight but these are my two best selling architecturals.. (hope the tags work!)

    Example, curvature

    Example, leaning back

  • http://www.onegoodphotographer.wordpress.com Bridget Casas

    This is not a building but I did need to work on it in lens distortion and warp to get it to look like it is in the right perspective. It was a lot wider at the top then at the bottom when I started with it. These same techniques do not apply just to buildings, but to a lot of things in everyday life.

    http://onegoodphotographer.wordpress.com/2009/06/18/a-nice-tribute-to-unconditional-love/

Some older comments

  • Bridget Casas

    June 20, 2009 01:08 pm

    This is not a building but I did need to work on it in lens distortion and warp to get it to look like it is in the right perspective. It was a lot wider at the top then at the bottom when I started with it. These same techniques do not apply just to buildings, but to a lot of things in everyday life.

    http://onegoodphotographer.wordpress.com/2009/06/18/a-nice-tribute-to-unconditional-love/

  • Chris Charlesworth

    May 31, 2009 01:49 am

    Just to emphasise my earlier point now I'm at a pc, I agree that in some circumstances things have to be straight but these are my two best selling architecturals.. (hope the tags work!)

    Example, curvature

    Example, leaning back

  • Romaing

    May 31, 2009 01:37 am

    why do I like thedistorted one better ?

  • Chris Horner

    May 29, 2009 01:30 am

    I actually agree with many of the above posts, and also prefer the first image to the second one. Yes the distortion can be corrected, but many times you may not want to. IMO the second image looks too 'rigid', and I immediately noticed distortion in that pic. But hey, if you or your client wants it, then cool. Otherwise, I like the distortion to make a powerful image. "Technically perfect" may not always be desireable. Just my $.02

  • Michael VanDeWalker

    May 29, 2009 12:20 am

    Something to remember on this as far as shooting it with a TS lens and "correcting" it in post that is when you do it in post you lose part of the image as you end up basically having to crop part of it out. You don't have that problem with the TS lens. To me it makes it much easier to frame the shot and keep interesting elements on the sides that help lead you into the center of attention.

  • Celine Ellis

    May 28, 2009 11:58 pm

    Strick me down if you think im wrong - but i far prefer the first image to the second in the examples here.

  • Yvonne

    May 28, 2009 11:37 pm

    At least in the examples provided, the original photo seems stronger compositionally and certainly more interesting than the "corrected" one. You could say that both are "distorted" but the distortions in the first photo are "natural" ones, while those in the second just look odd. For example, in the second photo the tops of the building don't narrow off but in real life it would look as if the top of the building was narrower than the bottom. Perspective and all that. The eye and brain are quite capable of making the necessary compensations.

  • Michael VanDeWalker

    May 28, 2009 11:11 pm

    I love my tilt shift lens.

    That being said, this discussion isn't much different than ones talking about "Should I blur the water in a waterfall shot?" or "Should I use a narrow DOF and blur the background?".

    What do you want it to look like?
    What does your client want the image to show?
    Do you want the image to show what was really there?
    Do you want an abstract look?

    What ever blows your dress up! Go for it.

  • Kang

    May 28, 2009 11:05 pm

    I think distortion is not neccesarily a bad thing all the time. The exageration could help create a nice effect and sometimes 'breaking the rules' of composition can lead to interesting results, at the end of the day, its a matter of perspective.

  • Jeffrey Kontur

    May 28, 2009 11:04 pm

    I think this could have been a good article. As it is, it comes across more as a sketched out idea for an article. This is basically 200 words or so to say that it's possible to correct perspective distortion but without giving any actual instructions or guidance for how to do so. Grade: C-

  • Lorenzo Reffo

    May 28, 2009 07:53 pm

    Fixing the distortion on an image like that should only be used if you shoot a building frontally, in my opionion.. In the original picture above, for example, lines seems to converge giving your shot a great perspective!

  • Florian Knorn

    May 28, 2009 06:48 pm

    A couple of months ago I also wrote a blog post on this topic, re-iterating (and giving examples for) the basic three possible you have for preventing perspective distortion, check it out :-)

    My favourite technique in that respect is not mentioned here: If there's enough space, shoot with a wide angle, but keep the camera horizontal, i.e. go portrait but put the building towards the top of the frame --- and then crop...

  • Ilan

    May 28, 2009 06:15 pm

    I think that this tip true not only to "building" photography.
    Working and fixing lens distortion is true to many types of photography (but of course, it is super important in architectural shots... and portraits.)
    If the issue it NOT a "commercial architectural shots" then when taking picture of building, same is in any other photo - The most important part is be original. Try to take another angle, of even a more abstract view when you combine the city "jungle" and squeeze into the frame.
    For example a shot I took in New York - http://www.ilanbresler.com/2008/07/simcity.html

  • Eduardo Pérez

    May 28, 2009 05:06 pm

    Whenever perspective correction is mentioned, Hugin comes to my mind. Even if its main purpose is panorama creation, there are several tutorials available about how to use it for this task.

    BTW, Hugin is free!!!

  • Bridget Casas

    May 28, 2009 01:11 pm

    I did an image of a building on my blog. I think there is still a little of a bow in it, but I worked pretty hard on it and the results look pretty good. You can see it here: http://onegoodphotographer.wordpress.com/2009/05/13/a-study-in-perspective/

    While you are there, take a look at some more of my photos!

  • Alvaro Flores

    May 28, 2009 11:51 am

    I´m not a photographer but an architect, and really disagree that when photographing architecture you always want to avoid the perspective distortion. As Chris said, a nice perspective can emphasize the perception and the character of the building as well as its spatial relations, otherwise -as in your example- it will become flat and unreal as an artistic rendering (which nevertheless can be very useful for other purpouses)

  • Matt

    May 28, 2009 10:41 am

    But not cheaper than GIMP! Everyone in the digital photo world seems to forget about it. If you haven't tried it you definitely should! Many PS features available all for 100% free. I use it all the time and love it.

    http://www.gimp.org

  • Jeff Plum

    May 28, 2009 09:29 am

    A perspective control lens is cheaper than Photoshop. :D

  • Chris Charlesworth

    May 28, 2009 08:07 am

    But wide angle distortion can also be used to exaggerate the angles and curves of a building to dramatic effect. Have a look at my architecturals on my website.

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