Architectural Perspective. Don’t let your buildings fall over!

Have you ever seen a photo of a building and it looks like it is falling over backwards! I’m sure you have. It is very common among snap shooters! The unaware photographer simply points his/her camera up so that the entire building, including the top will be in the frame, and voila; you have another beautiful work of architecture turned into the leaning tower of Pisa!

Architects, interior designers, commercial contractors, and structural engineers are very familiar with the concept of architectural perspective. It is a simple concept that when you tilt a camera from its vertical position, whatever is farther away will appear smaller. Just like railroad tracks appear smaller in the distance as you look down them. The only way to have them look even would be to hover over the track and look straight down.

When you tilt the camera back to shoot architecture you are breaking a major rule of architectural photography. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when tilting the camera will actually enhance the image, such as architectural details or other graphic purposes. But in general, a full view of a building that is falling backward is an eyesore and does a complete disservice to the architect and builder! And when I see a professional photographer that shows an image like that, while they may be good at portraits or weddings, they need to learn more about shooting architecture!

That being said, how do you photo a building without pointing the camera up? First of all, you may need a wide angle lens to get the whole building in the frame. Second, many photographers use architectural shift lenses which allow them to keep the camera level and shift or raise the lens barrel upward to take in the upper part of the building so that the camera does not have to be tilted. The same thing is done and has been done by many years using a view camera (Accordion type camera which many think are old-time cameras). The view camera allows the photographer to shift the front lens element upward while the film or camera back remains level. The view camera is also used by product photographers for the exact same reason; so that the product does not look like it is leaning or falling over!

So what if you don’t have all this fancy camera equipment to control architectural perspective? In a word, Photoshop! Photoshop has a plethora of tools to control perspective as well as an advanced perspective control module. It allows complete control over the perspective of an image including distortion cause by wide angle lenses.

So when you find that photos make your building look like it’s had a little too much to drink, learn to harness the power of perspective control or let a seasoned architectural photographer take the shots!

Incorrect Perspective Example
Post Park Apartments – Hyattsville, Maryland

Incorrect Perspective Example Image
St. Albans School Centennial Hall Washington, DC

St. Albans School Centennial Hall Washington, DC

And of course here is a slideshow of architectural details where the use of incorrect perspective is perfectly acceptable. Do you have any thoughts about architectural perspective? Please feel free to comment!

Architectural Detail Images by Building Photographer Jeffrey Sauers – Images by Jeffrey Sauers

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2 thoughts

  1. You are correct! As I mentioned in th article, it can be done using Photoshop’s perspective control tool on any image which eliminates the need to use a perspective control lens or view camera. As a matter-of -fact, it is my tool of choice since perspective control lenses are restrictive in focal length and the Photoshop tool is very powerful.

    Happy Shooting!

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