The Tilt Shift Lens Avoids Perspective DistortionHave you ever wondered how the architectural photography you see in magazine and coffee table books avoids the architectural perspective distortion commonly seen as FOBS (Falling-Over Building Syndrome) that plagues most amateur real estate photographs, including the majority of those taken for listing real estate for sale? See the really crappy architectural photography example at right in the photo we took in Taylor, Texas last month. (Seriously, we took that one and brought it home to edit planning to use it on this site, and not as an example of bad real estate photography!) The answer to correct architectural perspective lies in the use of a very specific type of lens called a Tilt and Shift lens (through frequently called a Tilt Shift Lens). More specifically, the Shift part of this type of lens permits the photographer to eliminate, or reduce architectural perspective distortion.
How Does Perspective Distortion in Photography Happen?What do we naturally do when we want to photograph something that is too tall for the normal view of the camera? We lean back and point our camera upwards, effectively tilting the plane of the sensor of the camera away from the building. Even a little tilt like this can introduce visible perspective distortion. If we're really lucky, or really in a hurry, we might not even be standing front-and-center of the building, and then we have a leaning back, leaning over, all edges wonky building in our photo, like the first one in this article. To give you some incentive for reading more, here are two photographs to better illustrate what I'm talking about, although both were taken with the same Canon 24mm f/3.5L Tilt Shift Lens, only the second one employed the Shift function of the lens.
Better: Less Distortion with a Tilt Shift LensNow, that wouldn't be the best example of architectural photography or real estate photography but it should suffice for the purposes of this article. I was really trying, really I was, to get you a few really good ones. We packed up the kids, and headed over to my current favorite spot for architectural photos in Austin (Mueller), had dinner, then located the PERFECT building! It was tall, well-lit at night and free of parked cars in front. I enlisted my 9 year old son's help and set up the tripod and the camera. And then, Oh No! No CF card! Augh! Not in the camera, my bag or the car! Augh! Drove home, grabbed the CF card and went back to the Arboretum with just my 4 year old son in tow. While he worried me by playing on the grass of the parking median, doing flips and singing really loud songs, I set up the tripod in the middle of the street and waved cars around me while I grabbed a few shots for this article using the tilt shift lens that has become my favorite lens of all time!
Methods for Avoiding or Correcting for Architectural Perspective DistortionThere are a few different ways to avoid, or correct for the perspective distortion in real estate photography commonly seen as FOBS (Falling-Over Building Syndrome). Let's talk about the ones that don't use a tilt shift lens, first. 1. Back Up, No, Back Up Even More You can back way up, until the whole building is in your viewfinder, without having to tilt your camera upwards.
- The main advantage of the Back Up, No, Back Up Even More approach is that you can use any camera, even a point and shoot.
- Disadvantages of the Back Up, No, Back Up Even More approach, however, are many.
- You might be so far across the street that your images are full of cars and pedestrians, trees and utility poles.
- You lose significant details of the building because so many of the pixels in the images are full of the stuff you didn't want in your picture (people, cars, etc.).
- The main advantage of the Stand on Something Really Tall approach is that you can use any camera, even a point and shoot.
- The disadvantages of the Stand on Something Really Tall approach are many.
- I mean, really, who carries a 20 foot ladder with them?
- How many homeowners or business are going to let you on their roof?
- How many fantastic architectural specimens or multi-story homes are across from a parking garage?
- The main advantage of the Correct in "Post" approach is that you can use any camera, even a point and shoot.
- The disadvantages of the Correct in "Post" approach are many.
- You have to edit each photo individually, to pull the top or the edges of the building back into alignment. (I'll be writing another article on this soon).
- You lose some of your resolution because your adjusted image will have wonky edges and will need to be re-cropped, which cuts out some of your data.
- Your image is unlikely to really look "right" because you're effectively compressing some of the data and expanding some of the rest, so the clarity and sharpness of detail won't be consistent.
- The main advantage of the Use an Ultra Wide-Angle Lens approach is that a wide-angle or ultra-wide angle lens like the Canon 10-20mm can be purchased for most DLSR cameras, and even the iPhone has a little lens that can be attached to increase the angle of view.
- One (significant) disadvantage of the Use an Ultra Wide-Angle Lens approach is that most wide-angle lenses have distortion at the edges. You may have avoided some of the distortion associated with FOBS (Falling-Over Building Syndrome), but you will likely introduce edge distortion and your pictures still won't look professional.
- Using a Tilt Shift Lens, or more specifically, a Shift Lens essentially makes the camera think you ARE on top of a really tall ladder, while keeping the plane of the camera's sensor parallel to the face of the building.
- It does this by shifting the lens up a few (or many) millimeters relative to the camera's sensor.
- A few millimeters mat not seem like a lot but when you figure the sensor of a full-frame Canon camera like the 5D Mark II is 24mm high, a few millimeters is actually quite a lot.