Converging verticals – what, how and fixes

Converging Verticals Eiffel Tower with guide linesWhen we look up at a tall building its sides slope inwards to form an inverted V shape. We are so used to seeing in this way that we hardly notice the effect while we are enjoying the view. When we take in the same scene in 2 dimensions, as we do when looking at a photograph, the experience is quite different and we do notice the convergence of the vertical aspects of the building.

If the effect is exaggerated, or at least very obvious, it lends a sense of height and drama to the picture, and we can appreciate a a split second just how tall that building is. However, if the effect is only moderate the building might look as though it is tilting backwards and in danger of falling over.

As with many photographic visual effects moderate applications simply look like mistakes, so we should avoid them at the shooting stage, or learn to correct them afterwards.

The way to avoid the problem is to hold the camera completely level when taking the picture, as it is the looking up angle of the camera that creates the effect. Unfortunately, keeping the camera level usually means that the top of the subject will be cut off. You can move backwards to alter your perspective, but in the majority of cases this is not an option as space is usually limited in architectural locations. In any case you’d have to move a long way for even a moderately tall structure

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See a map of where this picture was taken

Converging Verticals Eiffel Tower

Real-life perspective – Squeeze box man

realistic perspective street portraitsThe idea of street documentary is to show the viewer what it is like to be in the place you are shooting – and to experience the things you are experiencing. To do this I try to shoot with a perspective that delivers to the viewer a feeling of being in the place rather than simply observing it from afar.

The simplest way to begin this process is to use a lens that captures an angle similar to that which the human eyes can see. Although a 50mm lens is seen as ‘standard’ for the 135 film format and full frame sensors this is still slightly long for a realistic view. On these formats I try to use a focal length of between 30-40mm, which is the same as between 20-30mm for cameras with an APS-C type sensor, and between 15-20mm for FourThirds users.

When you use a lens like this for the type of portrait shown here you have to forget your inhibitions and move in close. This chap was more than happy for me to take his picture, but I still asked by showing the camera and expressing my intentions. This is done in a split second through facial expressions, but makes the difference between guarrenteed co-operation and comfort, and not quite knowing how the subject will react once you start shooting. Having permission also improves your chance of getting good eye contact.
The accordion player was sitting down so I crouched to get on the same level as his chest, and so I could make a major feature of the instrument. It looked almost as old as him, with just as many lines, contours and interesting features.

The day was very overcast, so I didn’t have any trouble with contrasty light and shadows blocking up his eyes or shading his face beneath his hat. It also meant that exposure was easy, and I could leave the camera’s evaluative/matrix system to do the work for me.

I shot in colour as usual, but knew this one would end up in black and white. The conversion was made using the green channel – a favourite with me for getting an aged classic look.

I cropped square as well to keep the composition tight, and because the format seems to suit the shot well.

The final image has good depth and possesses a three dimensional effect that I would not have achieved had I stood back and shot with a long lens. While long lenses allow you to keep a distance, they always show that you were a long way from the subject – which makes it difficult for the viewer to connect with the subject. Actually getting close yourself makes a massive difference, and can be the difference between getting an ordinary shot and one that has some impact.

Shot with Pentax K20D, with Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6.

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realistic perspective street portraits

Converging verticals – fix by cropping

Converging Verticals Arc De Triomphe A method of avoiding converging verticals that is open to everybody is shooting wide and cropping the result. In short the camera is fitted with a wide angle lens and is held in the upright orientation. Keeping the camera absolutely level you will see that once you have all the building in the shot there will be an excess of foreground that is probably not needed. Don’t worry about that though, just shoot the picture and crop the unwanted space off the final picture. Set the cropping proportions to 5×4 for a professional look, or pick between 6×7 or any other format simulation that suits the picture. You may end up with a horizontal shot from your vertical original, and you will have lost a lot of pixels, but at least the sides of the building will appear straight and completely upright.

This isn’t an ideal solution, but it is quick, easy and it does not require any additional specialist equipment.

Converging Verticals Arc de Triomphe croppedThis picture was made by cropping to 5×4 proportions to give the feel it was taken using a large format camera. As you can see the crop is a little too close and it all looks a bit uncomfortable. I used the full width of the original image to get the final picture size to 2912×2330 pixels, which would still deliver a 10x8in print at 300ppi.

Converging verticals Arc de Triomphe cropped squareFor this picture I cropped square. Again using the full width I was able to produce a final image that measures 2912×2912 pixels, and which prints to 10x10in at 300ppi. The extra space at the bottom makes a more comfortable composition, and a more successful final image.

Shot with a Canon EOS 1Ds, with EF28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS – exposure 1/5sec at f/22. ISO 400

The original file for these images measures 2912×4368 pixels and comes from an 11 million pixel camera. As the file is large to begin with there are plenty of cropping options to be had. Try different cropping proportions, such a 6×7, 6×8, to get different effects and to make the most of the file size you had to start with. Cropping to a landscape orientation will always leave you with the smallest final image, so using upright crops

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B&W conversion – Green Channel

Colour images converted to black and white using the green channel have quite a distinctive look that is great for creating the feel of all classic images. In the days before panochromatic emulsions black and white films had no sensitivity to red (they could even be developed with a red light on in the darkroom).

Film was mostly sensitive to green light, and pinky reds recorded as black, and greens as bright tones. In most normal scenes though pictures record with a moderate contrast that makes a nice change from the over blown black and white work that is widely popular among enthusiasts.

There are two principle ways of creating a conversion using just the green channel – you either isolate it by deleting the red and blue channels, or go into a channel mixer tool to effectively turn off all but the green. Either method delivers much the same result.

Green channel conversions are great for all sorts of subject types, but I especially use it for portraits and city scenes when I want pictures to appear older than they really are.

As digital cameras has twice the number of green pixels as either red or blue you will find that green channel conversions present the absolute best you will get from your camera. Resolution and image detail is optimised, and image noise will be at its lowest.

Filters V channels

If your camera has a black and white mode you may have wondered whether it is better to shoot using this mode and coloured filters over the lens, or whether to shoot in colour and convert using a colour channel mixer or selector in software. You may find that most people will tell you that essentially the two methods add up to the sdame thing, but that one involves putting a piece of glass or plastic over your expensive lens which might degrafe your image quality. Actually there is a difference, though it is quite a subtle one.

If we compare digital processes to the days of film shooting with filters is just like when we shot with black and white film and filters, but when we use channel mixer tools it is like changing the characteristics of the film. Digital sensors are panochromatic – that is, they are sensitive to red, green and blue light. When we use a single channel by itself we are effectively altering the sesnitivity of the sensor. Using only the green channel makes the sensor behave as orthochromatic film, and using only the blue makes the sensor xyxy. When you put a filter over the lens you are still using a panochromatic sensor but you promote one colour and hold back another. The effect is quite different, as is the principle. Using a filter over the lens with a panochromic sensor will always produce a more extreme result, that can only be matched in magnitude in software by extensive manipulation that degrades the image.

This picture was taken using the Olympus E-3.

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Sense of scale – Waiting to cross

low angles waiting to crossThis shot is part of a series I made of street pictures taken from ground level. We are so used to seeing street scenes from the normal standing position that anything else immediately looks a bit different. When you lay on your face in the street though, you get views that only drunks and ants experience. In earlier test shots I noticed that shooting with a wide angle, and combining humans in the foreground with buildings in the middle distance, often produces a warped sense of scale. So I went looking for just the right conditions.

The wide streets of Warsaw provide the ideal environment for this technique, and the crossing is a great source of the right kind of subject – the type that keeps still a while.

The totally dedicated will feel the need to lay down on the floor to get perfect framing for this kind of shot, but actually doing that draws attention to what you are doing and people tend to steer clear of you. I prefer to crouch as though doing up my shoe laces, Camera retsing on shoe for low angle photography. Damien Demolderand rest the camera on my toe, for stability and to allow me to keep it straight. If you have an angle finder, or a digital camera with a flip out screen, you will be able to take some control of your composition. If you don’t you’ll just have to guess – like I did here.

You can get the framing right by taking some trial shots to inspecting on the LCD – or just shoot slightly wide so that wonky horizons can be cropped straight later on at the printing stage or in software. A spirit level in the hotshoe can help with this as well as save you time post-capture.

For this particular shot I waited for the light to fade a little so that cars would be using their head lamps and the shops in the buildings would be illuminated. I had noticed that as cars at the junction turned right their lights spilled across the road and onto the path. If only someone would stand in the right place I could get them back-lit with a warm light to contrast with the cool blue of the winter sky. I wanted that person to fill the gap between the buildings where the street runs off into the distance. And as luck would have it, after about ten minutes of waiting, the right person came along, stood in the right place and a car turned right!To get the buildings straight I used a wide angle lens and held the camera straight rather than angling it up. This meant there was far more foreground in the picture than I wanted, but I just cropped the image after to remove it. I set the cropping tool to 5×4 proportions to create a classic format look.

Shot with a Pentax K10D, with Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6

The secret to this shot is not the lens or the exposure detail, but the previsualisation of the final picture. in situations like this you must be able to see what sort of picture could come out of the elements that are present – and what added element is needed to complete the shot. You must then be prepared to wait for all the elements to come together, and sometimes that can take quite a while. It is easier for most people to understand that if they were a wildlife photographer they might have to wait for a bird to turn up than it is for them to wait for a person to stand in the right place or a car to turn a corner. You must think of these as being all the same thing – worth waiting for.


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low angles waiting to cross


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The right content and angle – Orlando Calling

Orlando CallingIt’s often the case that I ‘see’ a picture, or at least a potential picture, in a split second, but it then takes me more than a few seconds to work out exactly just how the picture should be composed to be shot. Although my brain was able to identify almost before I realised it that there is a picture waiting to be captured right there in front of me, actually working out what it is in the scene that is making my alarm systems ring.

When I spotted this chap making a call from a bank of phones in Orlando I was able to identify straight away that it was the way the green colour of his t-shirt contrasted with the red of the phone booths that caught my eye. The line of the metal-fronted phone boxes also made a striking connection with me – not to mention his haircut, sun glasses and square-set features.

My subject was so engrossed in his conversation that he wasn’t noticing me at all, so unusually in this kind of situation I was free for twenty seconds or so to shoot away trying a few different compositions and crops.

Orlando-calling-sequence, man on phone, FloridaAt first I was simply too far away, and the greater distance between me and the subject compressed the perspective in a way that couldn’t show the front of the phones very well . I was also at too acute an angle. I wondered forward and then moved round to get an angle more in front of him. Having found the right position in the horizontal plane, I then realised the next problem was that I was looking down on him slightly – which was making the diagonals of the phone booths converge to taper in at the bottom.

Bending my knees slightly was enough to lower my position so that I could get all the verticals parallel. Getting things parallel is really important, as it simply makes a shot look as though you took care over taking it – and it lends a professional feel. Converging verticals and wonky horizontals just look sloppy. Keeping this in mind will make a massive difference to your pictures – and not just those showing tall buildings!

For the final shot I moved in to frame things a little tighter and then waited for the subject to put on the right expression and lift his head a little. I was lucky that he brought his head up so his eyeline view was almost completely horizontal too – and then I knew I had the shot I wanted.

Shot with a Canon EOS 1Ds, with EF28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS – exposure 1/320sec at f/8. ISO 100

If you find you have shot a picture that has slightly converging verticals or a wonky horizon you can correct the problems reasonably easily in a software application such as Photoshop, Photoshop Elements or GIMP (free download).

To see more of my pictures visit my galleries at

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Orlando Calling

Low angles – Crane Fly

Crane FlyThis is a fairly simple idea for making macro or close-up shots more interesting and more unusual. I know I have spent ages in the past trying to get close to bugs and insects to show just how ‘macro’ I can get. In the end though I often created pictures that were only interesting from the point of view of being close to a small object – rather than pictures that are visually stimulating in their own right.

For this shot I didn’t get as close as I could, but concentrated instead on getting a nice picture. Using this low angle I was able to create a brilliant blue background using the sky. It also makes the shot striking in the first instance because we are not used to seeing Daddy Long Legs from this angle. Looking up at the subject in this way the viewer gets the impression that the insect is a giant – its a bit War of the Worlds.

On this occasion I set the camera to aperture priority mode and was able to shoot away without needing any exposure compensation. If the sky had been any brighter or darker I may well have needed to adjust the exposure by half a stop or so. Shooting with ISO 400 might not be best for ultimate picture quality, but it allowed me to combine a small aperture, for extensive depth of field, with the short shutter speed I needed to combat the effect of the wind blowing the flowers around.

On balance it’s better to accept some image noise to create a sharp image. Had I shot at ISO 100, for example, I would have been forced to use a shutter speed of 1/125sec – which would not have been short enough to freeze the movement of the subject. The shot didn’t need any post capture work, other than to add the touch of Unsharp Mask that all digital files require.

The camera I used was a compact with a flip-out articulated screen so it was easy for me to shot from this low angle and still see what I was going to get. I have shot the same sort of thing with other models as well though, without the flexibility of this type of screen – you just have to rely on guess-work and shoot a few more pictures to get the result you are looking for.

Shot with an Olympus Camedia C7070WZ – exposure 1/500sec at f/11. ISO 400 with the zoom set to the equivalent of 55mm.

Kauser Angle FinderIf you use a DSLR, or a film SLR, and don’t have a flip-out vari-angle screen like the C7070WZ has you could use an angle finder like the one shown here. This makes it easier to see through the lens when in awkward positions. Many camera manufacturers have their own units, but this one, sold through Kauser International, is designed to fit many different cameras via adapters.

To see more of my pictures visit my galleries at

To see more of my pictures
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Crane Fly. Damien Demolder

Capturing movement – Blue Bamboo

These are not my bamboo plants – they belong to my wife. But I’m the one who chats to them, waters them and feeds them. They’ve grown really tall, and when the wind blows across the garden they lean right over and sway around. I love listening to the sound of their dry leaves brushing together – it sounds like the sea – and watching the sun sparkle as the canes and leaves alternately block it and then let it through.

For this shot I wanted to capture the movement of the leaves and the canes on a windy day. It doesn’t take much wind to make them move, but as they are quite rigid, and they block the wind as well as dance in it, some parts of the plant move more than others. It seemed silly to shot on a tripod when capturing movement like this, so I shot hand-held and made the most of the freedom to try lots of different angles.

As it was a bright day, I needed a small aperture to get a shutter speed long enough to show the movement. In the end I settled on f/16 and shutter speeds of around 1/15sec. The shutter opening was enough to show the movement in some areas and a degree of sharpness in others, which then allows the picture to explain more clearly what was going on. The leaves, which were fluttering very quickly, have become very blurred, but the gently swaying canes are quite well defined.

I shot in colour, but knowing that I would convert to black and white afterwards. I wanted to use a green filter to lighten the leaves and to create contrast with the darker canes, but a physical glass filter would have created too much flare – I was shooting into the light.

The same shot in colourI converted the picture to black and white via channel mixer – using just the green channel – and then toned it with this china blue colour. To do this I converted the RGB file to greyscale, and then made it a duotone. I’m not too bothered what colour I choose in Duotone mode, as I always adjust the colour and saturation once the file is converted back to RGB.

Once it was done I went into Levels and moved the highlight output levels to 252 from 255. That just takes the edge off the white background and reduces the contrast a touch

It’s pointless to add sharpening to such a soft image – so I didn’t.

Shot with a Canon EOS 1Ds III, with EF28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS – exposure 1/10sec at f/29. ISO 100

If you want to use this same grey/blue for a duotone click the selected colour in the ‘Ink 2’ box and then type bdc6cb into the hex colour box that sits at the bottom of the ‘Color Picker’ window. The hex color box is the one with a # (hash symbol) next to it.

To see more of my pictures visit my galleries at

To see more of my pictures
visit my photo galleries site

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