City Canyons: When Perspective Matters

pl_manhattan_0010Photographs taken at extreme angles—particularly up at tall structures—often look awkward and can make the buildings appear as if they are falling over. This is because when we are part of the scene our eyes and brain correct for the odd perspective and “see” the buildings with their natural shape. But once we are looking at a photograph we don’t have that frame of reference and the buildings and other structures simply appear tilted or mis-shapen. Expensive Perspective Control (PC) and Tilt/Shift lenses have been created to help. However, in addition to being large and expensive PC lenses are usually of limited functionality, without zoom capabilities or stabilization in many cases.

So photographers greeted the advent of perspective correction in Photoshop with quite a bit of glee. Using the Perspective feature of the Crop tool it was now possible to digitally make some corrections in the appearance of an image. Of course this after the fact correction couldn’t correct or enhance the Depth of Focus (DOF) the way that it was possible with a true tilt & shift lens, but it could make buildings not look they were falling over and it could provide some of the “forced perspective” that Ansel Adams often used so effectively when shooting with his view camera from the roof of his station wagon.

I used exactly that type of correction for this temple courtyard at Beng Melea in Cambodia, where the shot I wanted involved aiming the camera down into the courtyard but I didn’t want to have the awkward shapes that created. By correcting the perspective to look like I was shooting straight ahead I got the look I wanted:

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Nikon D3, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 Lens
Beng Melea Temple near Siem Reap, Cambodia

But sometimes that awkward seeming angle is perfect for the image. After two days of rain in New York City last week I was drawn upward to the clearing sky as we walked to Grand Central Station for our train. The natural “canyon” effect of the tall surrounding buildings was increased by shooting up at a large angle. Aside from the inconvenient construction crane I really liked the resulting image (I did use HDR as the bright clouds and the dark shadows on the nearby buildings were massively apart in light levels):

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Manhattan Street, Nikon D300S, Sigma 18-250mm OS Lens

I could have corrcted the perspective after the fact in Photoshop but it would have taken much of the natural interest and “art” out of the image. The resulting image would look like the version below:

pl_manhattan_0010persp
Perspective corrected version of above image
Using Photoshop CS5

One quick note on this process for anyone interested in correcting perspective in Photoshop is to leave lots of extra room in your original image. As you can see by comparing these two versions correcting perspective can also cost you quite a bit of your initial composition.

If you’d like to learn more about techniques like these please do find the time to join us for one of our photo safaris and workshops.—David