Comment: Getting Some Perspective

Comment: Getting Some Perspective

Choi Ropiha and Perkins Eastman’s TKTS Booth (Click
Norman McGrath

The secret of avoiding distortion when photographing architecture is to keep the camera level. Doing so, particularly with wide-angle lenses, eliminates converging vertical elements in your composition. In some situations, this can present new problems. When photographing from ground level many subjects rise high above the horizon. Only by shooting from an elevated viewpoint can the photographer include all he or she wants without pointing the camera upwards. 

Jean Nouvel’s 100 Eleventh. (Click images to enlarge)
Renzo Piano’s Art Institute of Chicago.
Piano’s Bridge at the Art Institute.
FXFowle’s 11 Times Square.
Studio Gang’s Aqua Tower.
SOM’s Trump INTernational HOtel & Tower.
All photos Norman McGrath

So far photographers have relied on a couple of solutions. If photographing with digital equipment and you have Photoshop skills, you can make perspective corrections with a computer. This takes a considerable degree of expertise to do well. Nevertheless many professionals have come to rely on this approach.

Or you can use of a tilt/shift lens from Canon or a perspective control lens from Nikon. There are one or two alternatives brands, but these two companies offer the best solution to producing undistorted images with the aid of lens movement without distortion. These lenses permit a photographer to produce compositions similar to those obtainable previously only with the use of a view camera but without the bulk and complexity associated with large format work.

Until very recently all the tilt/shift lenses had been designed in the pre-digital era. But now photographers of architecture are mostly using digital cameras in place of large format film. So more is being expected of digital single lens reflex cameras than ever before. With this in mind both Canon and Nikon have released new lenses with movement potential for high-end digital use.

They are impressive lenses. What they enable the photographer to do is move the lens on its mount but still keep the camera absolutely level. This produces a composition with more at the top and less at the bottom when the lens is shifted upwards. Until very recently the widest angle optics that have incorporated movement was 24mm. And while 24mm is wide enough for many situations, there will always be a demand for something more. Canon has just released a new 24mm tilt/shift, Mark II version of its earlier one and a truly astounding 17mm tilt/shift.

In testing these two lenses I felt like I had a secret weapon capable of withstanding any challenge. Even very difficult situations were solved using these two lenses, the 17mm in particular. The examples shown here give some idea what these lenses are capable of. Neither is inexpensive, starting at $2,000, but they do allow a photographer to produce excellent clean files with little or no distortion. You don’t have to resort to fancy computer work that can be expensive, time consuming, and will keep you indoors.