Is distorted perspective “weird” or “dynamic”?

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January 18, 2016 at 10:30 am  •  Posted in Q&A, Tips & Techniques by  •  0 Comments

During our February tour of India, I will be taking a lot of photos of buildings, including the exteriors and interiors of ancient Hindu temples. When I have done so in the past, the perspective was weird because I had to tilt the lens. How can I get perfectly straight lines in my photos?
—Ari K.

Frankly, Ari, most of my own photos of buildings exhibit linear perspective, because it’s extremely difficult to get the kind of images you might see in Architectural Digest. Yes, it is caused by tilting the lens, and that’s discussed—with one solution—in the Q&A “I bought an ultra wide-angle lens and the distortion in my photos is terrible, why is that?”  There is another solution that can be useful with exteriors. Use a telephoto lens from a much greater distance to record the structure without a need for much tilting of the lens. Later, correct the minor distortion using special software such as DxO ViewPoint 2. Of course, this technique is useful only in locations where you can get far enough back from the building; that won’t be possible in crowded or crammed urban locations.

This photo (from India) confirms that you'll get little linear distortion in siutations where you can shoot from a great distance with a telephoto lens instead of using a (tilted) wide angle lens from a closer position. However, in locations with many nearby buildings, or with large crowds, you'll need to reconsider your photographic approach. © 2011 Peter K. Burian

This photo (from India) confirms that you’ll get little linear distortion in siutations where you can shoot from a great distance with a telephoto lens instead of using a (tilted) wide angle lens from a closer position. However, in locations with many nearby buildings, or with large crowds, you’ll need to reconsider your photographic approach. © 2011 Peter K. Burian

Architectural photography specialists use perspective control or tilt/shift lenses that make it possible to include a large building or interior in a single photo. Lenses of that type allow for tilting the optics upward, for example, while keeping the camera body perfectly level. Since such equipment is large, heavy and very expensive—and must be used on a tripod—it’s not practical for travel photography by the vast majority of photo enthusiasts.

The so-called "distorted perspective," caused by tilting a lens to include a vast area in the frame, can either be "weird" or "dynamic." That depends on your personal preferences but also on whether the photo was made in a manner that makes the linear distortion troublesome or dramatic. © 2015 Peter K. Burian

The so-called “distorted perspective,” caused by tilting a lens to include a vast area in the frame, can either be “weird” or “dynamic.” That depends on your personal preferences but also on whether the photo was made in a manner that makes the linear distortion troublesome or dramatic. © 2015 Peter K. Burian

Should you worry about unusual perspective or should you intentionally exaggerate the linear distortion for a dramatic effect? The decision is personal, but I have decided to go with the latter approach. I find that it’s particularly effective for indoor use when using symmetry in the composition, like in the photo of the cathedral. You can achieve a similar effect in a temple in India by shooting from a spot that allows you to perfectly centre the scene in the frame. Of course, this is only one method to use when exercising creativity and you may also wish to try entirely different strategies.

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