Perspective and Photography

Beautifully expressive statues overlooking visitors entering Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France.

Canon 5D Mark II camera and Canon 70-200mm f4 L series lens @ 127mm. Exposure: ⅛00 second @ f5.6 ISO 100.

Here’s an interesting site overlooking visitors, worshippers and tourists alike, as they enter the stunning Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. These statues are right above one of the main entrances to the Cathedral but, I suspect, many tourists arriving during the busy summer months might not even notice this group of interested onlookers as they’re herded, like sheep, through the throng of other visitors into the sacred space that awaits them.

Perspective and Photography

One of the problems associated with photographing architectural elements is that they are often at an elevation higher than we mere mortals. This causes us to lift our gaze and, with it, our camera upwards. As a result, particularly when a wide-angle lens is used, the image becomes distorted towards the edges of the frame. You’ll notice this, most commonly, as the bending inwards of what should otherwise be straight vertical lines.

Correcting Perspective

A non-technical solution, that doesn’t rely on fixing up the problem on the desktop, is to move backwards until you achieve the desired composition while keeping important vertical lines straight.

The further back you go the less you need to lift your head or tilt the camera to compose the photo. You see it’s the titling of the camera that causes the vertical lines in the scene to be recorded so strangely in your photo. But by moving backwards (watch you step, or you’ll end up in the drink), it’s as though you’re actually also moving upwards. The further back you go the straighter the vertical lines will appear. Wow! And when back far enough for your camera to be parallel to your subject, and still give you the composition you’re seeking, vertical lines will be recorded correctly.

The other advantage of this technique is that, by moving backwards, you’re now more likely to have to move your lens’s focal length away from wide-angle, where distortion on the edge of the frame is particularly pronounced, towards telephoto. 

Save Me Oh Mighty Lightroom

For those who prefer the software route applications like Adobe Lightroom, from the folks that brought you Photoshop, offer a great solution. I’ve prepared a special video demonstrating this technique below.

Just be aware that, as a consequence of re-straightening verticals on the desktop, image cropping will occur. The more straightening required, the more of the image will be cropped. To avoid losing important information within the scene make sure you factor the inevitable cropping into your original composition by including lots of otherwise unwanted areas around your primary subject matter.

For folks like me who really enjoy getting their composition right, in camera, this will be a little disconcerting, at first. But you’ll get used to it and, after viewing the following short video demonstration, you’ll realize just what a powerful solution Lightroom can be to your imaging needs.

Double Cream Please

As there’s not a great deal of color on the surface of the Cathedral I opted for a black and white rendering. After all it was the shapes and textures of the statues, as much as their historical relevance and power over the masses, that interested me. If color isn’t an essential component of your composition consider removing it. You’ll be amazed how prominent other elements of composition (e.g., shape, texture, line, symmetry, repetition, etc) suddenly become.

To add to the sense of nostalgia I added a subtle warm tone to the image and my signature glow which intensifies the blacks and adds extra luminosity and a soft, creaminess to the lighter tones within the image. It’s a simple photo, but with a little technique and an understanding of what you want to explore or communicate, it’s amazing what can be achieved.

While I'm unable to link to it, in the same way I have with the above products, there's an amazing offer on at the moment from Adobe. You can get Lightroom and Photoshop CC (i.e., Creative Cloud) for just $9.95 per month. I don't know how long this offer will last but, as long as you're not against licensing these programs off the cloud, as I do, it's well worth checking out. Here's the link to that Special Offer.

Alternatively, the above illustrated link to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 (that's its correct name) is hard to pass up. Any questions just ASK ME

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru