How can I fix distorted perspective in my photos with software?

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December 21, 2015 at 8:30 am  •  Posted in Q&A, Tips & Techniques by  •  0 Comments

When I take photos of buildings, the perspective is often “off.” The building is leaning backwards, or sometimes the perspective is even worse and looks completely skewed. Can you explain how to correct this with software so that picture looks more normal?
—Tanya R.

The so-called distorted perspective (primarily keystoning in the photo on the left) can be prevented or minimized by shooting from a location that lets you get the shot without tilting the camera upward. However, when that is not practical in a crowded city, you'll need to use one of the software solutions discussed in the text. (Bruges Belfry, Belgium) © 2015 Peter K. Burian

The so-called distorted perspective (primarily keystoning in the photo on the left) can be prevented or minimized by shooting from a location that lets you get the shot without tilting the camera upward. However, when that is not practical in a crowded city, you’ll need to use one of the software solutions discussed in the text. (Bruges Belfry, Belgium) © 2015 Peter K. Burian

Tanya, you are describing keystoning, which is a type of linear distortion. It’s a typical problem, particularly when taking photos of tall buildings. While it’s most common in wide-angle and ultra-wide images, the distortion can occur whenever we tilt the lens and the camera back is not perpendicular to the plane of the subject. The best solution is actually prevention: change your photo technique as discussed in the previous Q&A I bought an ultra wide-angle lens and the distortion in my photos is terrible…. However, there are often locations in cities where it’s simply not possible to shoot from a location that would prevent distortion. And you may already have some images that are beautiful but would benefit from perspective correction.

Many photo enthusiasts own or subscribe to one of the Adobe programs, such as Photoshop CC (subscription only), Lightroom 6 or CC or perhaps Elements. If you do, then you might consider using that software instead of buying an additional program.

Elements has relatively basic tools for perspective correction, so it’s not the most useful. However, Lightroom CC (or the virtually identical Lightroom 6) is ideal since the Lens Correction utility in the Develop module offers great versatility. The primary tools you would use are Upright, Level or Vertical, but there is also an Auto option that is sometimes useful. Manual controls are also available. This is the least complicated of the programs discussed, and you can quickly get started after viewing the Lightroom CC – Removing Lens Distortions and Correcting Perspective video tutorial.

Older versions of Photshop provided a Lens Correction utility, which is moderately useful. Photoshop CC retains that feature, but adds an entirely new utility, the Perspective Warp transformation tool. While it has many applications, it’s perfect for fixing what you have described. While somewhat complicated to use, the utility allows for dramatic changes while providing full user control. If you subscribe to Photoshop CC and are willing to take the time required to master Perspective Warp, this might be the best solution. View the Four Useful Ways to Use Perspective Warp in Photoshop CC tutorial to appreciate how the utility works and how to get the best results.

While the tools in the Lens Correction utility in Lightroom 6 or CC are more intuitive in my opinion, DXO ViewPoint 2 (shown here) is more sophisticated and versatile. If you are a serious photographer who often shoots buildings or cityscapes, this might be your preferred choice. Photo courtesy of DXO Labs.

While the tools in the Lens Correction utility in Lightroom 6 or CC are more intuitive in my opinion, DXO ViewPoint 2 (shown here) is more sophisticated and versatile. If you are a serious photographer who often shoots buildings or cityscapes, this might be your preferred choice. Photo courtesy of DXO Labs.

I have also tested the stand-alone DxO ViewPoint 2 program (US$39) for correcting perspective problems, and I found it to be incredibly versatile. (It can also be used as a plug-in with Lightroom or Photoshop.) Using this software is not intuitive or simple, and it definitely targets serious photographers. You can reduce the learning curve by viewing these demonstration videos: DxO ViewPoint – Perspective Correction and DxO ViewPoint: Fixing Perspective Distortion. Also, be sure to take advantage of the free trial available on the DXO website. After a few hours of practice, you’ll know whether this is the optimal solution for your needs.

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