Stop Buildings from Falling Over with your Bare Hands

Or …your mouse 

Many times when we shoot architecture, if we don’t have our camera perfectly level to the building, either shooting up on it or possibly down on it, we will get some geometric distortions or ”keystoning” effects to our image. This at its extreme may look like buildings leaning in on themselves or each other. Or it could just be an element of the building like a door or window that don’t appear square.

Possible fixes are to; well shoot with our camera level – which of course isn’t always possible. Or, we could shoot with a Tilt-Shift Lens( a specialized lens that the barrel twist and turns so the camera stays level but the lens itself points up at a building) But not many people have these expensive lenses in their kit (ha-ha I love to sound British and say “Kit” instead of Bag)

So the other choice is to use software instead. In this exercise I will show how top do it in Photoshop and also Lightroom/Adobe Camera RAW.


If you are working with a RAW file, open the image first in Adobe Camera RAW. (If you are working with a Jpeg or Tiff you can skip the next step)

The first thing I like to do and this isn’t a necessity, but I like to remove any Geometric Distortions that are caused by the camera lens itself. We do this in Adobe Camera RAW (or Lightroom) by click on the Lens Correction tab and clicking the box for “Enable Lens Profile Correction

Click on images to enlarge in a new window

Doing this will take any curvatures or other nasties that even the best lenses may introduce; especially, towards the edges of our image. Now you could make your final correction right here in ACR but I’ll explain that in the next section

After you make any other adjustments you want at this point to your RAW image, go ahead and open the image into Photoshop

The first thing I want to do is pull in some guide lines from the Ruler side of our image, If you don’t have rulers visible click ctrl/cmd + R. Simply click drag a Blue Guide line out from the ruler and place one next to each edge of our building. If the Guide Line doesn’t show after you drag it press ctrl/cmd + ; and it will. Other people prefer to use a grid instead of Guides, if you do press ctrl/cmd + ‘ to show the grid. (you can access these from the view menu too)

With the guide lines in place we can see how much we need to straighten the edge of our buildings. And that is a very simple matter.

Select your entire image. (Ctrl/cmd + A) and then go to Edit> Transform> Perspective.

Alternatively you could also choose Transform>Skew. The advantage of Skew is you can control each side independently of the other, where as perspective adjusts both side equally. Up to you and the difficulty of your task

Now at the top of the image, pullout the control points until the sides of your buildings are straight. Simple as that.

Hit enter or click the check mark on the options bar and you’re done. You may crop the image or what ever you need to do to finish your image.

 Lightroom/Adobe Camera RAW

The truth is you could make these corrections while it is a RAW image and non-destructively In Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW. I DO prefer to use Photoshop only because it can do more and correct more different types of geometric distortions. Or, for example, I wanted to correct one side of the image differently than the other. The other great thing about using Photoshop is that I can apply these transformations to just a selection if I don’t need to do it to the full image

But for a simple correction like this LR or ACR work great.

Open the Image in Adobe Camera RAW. Or, In Lightroom, go to the develop module. Make the same adjustment for Lens Corrections as I did above. Then click on the Manual adjustment tab.

Lightroom will automatically show a grid when you move a slider, In ACR to show the grid press V (Beware that “view>grid” in Lightroom has a way different meaning so don’t be tempted)

In this case, go to the Vertical Slider and move it to the left to pull the top out (or right to move the top together) In Lightroom if you want to auto-crop the image as you straighten click the box for “Constrain Crop”. In ACR you either have to manually crop or you could use the Scale Transform to take out the gray areas of this adjustment.

And that’s all there is to it.

Now some people are tempted to do this for every building shot they have. But there are some artistic AND Geometric decisions to be made sometimes.

Take this image, I could be tempted (and I did) to pull out the top and make it look like I shot it straight on. This makes the building look funny because our mind sees other visual clues that we are looking up, and then because of those, even though the sides are straight, the building looks larger at the top than the bottom

In this case I want the viewer to know we are looking up at the building. We can ONLY establish that perspective IF we use a Vanishing Point to tell our eye/mind that we are looking up

The only adjustment I made on this image was to rotate it slightly to make one of the center lines of the building fully vertical

OK, this an example of Vanishing point..I knew you wanted to know

And that’s the basics of it. There is much more to learn about shooting architecture, but this may be a small thing that helps your images look better


One Comment

  1. Andy September 28, 2012 at 7:25 am #

    Thanx Peter for the great little tute on perspective control, keyboard shortcuts included.

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