Moose’s Verticals

This post is by Ron Dawson from The Online Photographer

Moose, a longtime reader, has kindly and helpfully supplied modified versions of two pictures recently posted here.

Moose prefers corrected verticals, the lack of which bothered him in both pictures. To illustrate his point, he provided pages where you can see the version I posted and his corrected version by hovering your mouse:

First example

Second example

I really don’t mind either of his versions. However, I prefer partially corrected verticals, even in view camera work; both of these pictures have received partial correction in my versions. I feel that we expect to see convergence when looking up at a building, for instance, and when it’s entirely missing it looks awkward. “Perfectly” corrected keystoning in tall buildings often looks to me like it is keystoned the opposite way, as in this example from Flickr.  Although you may prefer that, to my eye it looks slightly wider at the top than at the bottom, and I don’t like that effect. I will most often make corrections in the “Geometry” tab in Photoshop that go part of the way but not all the way to perfect. My goal (as with most corrections) is to make sure the geometry or perspective or rectilinearity or whatever you want to call it doesn’t call undue attention to itself—I want it to look natural, but leaving in some camera vision makes sense to me. Like I say, I think Moose’s versions are okay, and neither would bother me if I came across them as someone else’s work. But I still prefer my versions, in both cases. YM, like Moose’s, MV.

Moose’s assumptions have led him into a couple of further problems, however. If you look at the first one and go back and forth. Notice how the objects along the bottom of the frame are compacted. The house in particular becomes more squat, and loses its proportions. This might just be a consequence of him having to work from a small published JPEG, and it might be something he could avoid if he had the full file to work with.

However, in the “Mennonite Boys” picture, I had a memory of the scene that made his version look not quite right to me. So on a trip to Watkins Glen a couple of days ago I swung past Dundee to look at the location again. And, sure enough—that telephone pole on the left is not straight in real life! It’s tilted. I took a carefully correct picture of it in the daylight, then compared it to a protractor on my computer screen, and I would estimate the tilt to be about 12–13 degrees. So, here, Moose’s desire for rectilinearity has led him into literal error! That telephone pole needs to slant in the picture for it to be accurate.

However, note that this is not to say he’s wrong, necessarily. If the picture looks best to him that way, then that’s the way he would correct it, and he would still be right…for himself. We just differ in our preferences, is all. Neither of us is right or wrong. Straightening a crooked telephone pole is just as much an option as removing a small distraction in post or making any other small editing change in the image. The idea is to make it look right for your definition of “right,” whatever that might be.

There’s another editing choice in that second picture that’s interesting. Another reader said he would crop out the small cluster of lights along the right-hand border. Well, I like that cluster of lights and I wanted it in the frame. But when I did the vertical correction, I lost about half of it—so I grabbed it in Photoshop and restored it to its former place in the frame by moving it over a little. 

One’s man’s meat, and all that.

One final point. In explaining it to me, Moose justified his preference for straight verticals in terms of what was normal in view camera work. With a view camera, you can correct geometry in-camera. He’s right, and, if that goes a ways in explaining how his preferences evolved, it may go some way toward explaining how my preferences evolved too—because I was a 35mm photographer until around 2003 when I got my first digicam. And 35mm photographers have to learn to live with the sometimes wopplejawed geometry the fixed lens captures. If you try to make everything rectilinear, it will just drive you crazy. It’s much better just to learn to live with what the camera gives you.

To each his (or her) own.

Big thanks to Moose for providing the illustrations and hence the grist for this discussion!


Original contents copyright 2023 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. (To see all the comments, click on the “Comments” link below or on the title of this post.)

Featured Comments from:

Allan Graham: “I have to admit that I did the same thing as Moose. As a student, long ago when we still used the pencil and technical pen, I was trained in architectural perspective drawing, in which verticals are never permitted to converge. It’s difficult to un-train the brain. And for photography in those days, not being able to afford shift lenses, we resorted to tilting the enlarger base board and using the smallest lens aperture we could get away with.”

Mike replies: Ah yes, and some enlargers actually had adjustable lens stages to make that trick easier!


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