Maintaining vertical verticals in interior photography

06th August 2013
Maintaining vertical verticals

I see a lot of interiors photographs, mainly from estate agents that look as though the houses are falling down, with their walls leaning out wildly. Unless it is just that all the houses I go to are built better, there is a bit of a problem with estate agent’s photography.
Architects and builders have spent a lot of time getting stuff properly upright only for it to be shown all wonky when it is put up for sale (quite why the sellers accept this I don’t know).

The first thing I learnt about professional property photography was “don’t charge until you can get your verticals vertical.” It is that important!

Why does this happen to me?

When you tilt your camera off the horizontal plane, you get lens distortion which gives you either ‘Diverging’ - moving apart or ‘Converging’- moving together verticals.
Both forms appear regularly in estate agents photos; Diverging inside and converging outside.
Diverging: I think it is safe to say, that most agents walk into the room, stand in the corner and shoot. Yeah? When you do this, you are looking down into the room and therefore tilting your camera downwards. This makes your walls lean outwards.
Converging: When photographing a tall building, you point the camera up to get it all in the frame; tilting your camera up off the horizontal plane will make the walls lean inwards.

How can I fix this?

Photographing interiors:
• Don’t stand in the corner (nobody puts Baby in the corner!) get down and shoot from about 4ft, yes really! Bung it on a tripod (ideally) and take the shot from down there, it will all but eradicate the problem and give you much nicer compositions. Better floor/ceiling balance.
• When looking through the viewfinder, use the edges of the black frame to line up your verticals.
• If you shoot from the rear screen, use a grid overlay and check your verticals with that.
• Don’t shoot too wide. You are packing that amazing 10-24mm lens and want to smash that room with it! – No. The wider you shoot, the more distortion you will get and remember this, the more room you have to light with your single pop-up or hot-shoe flash! Try to shoot no wider than 17mm, although I know there will be many occasions where this is not possible.
• Fix it in Photoshop (or the like) Put up a grid or drag on some line-guides, select the whole image, drag out the walls till they are straight, crop and save. – Simples. (Ok, there is a little bit more to do than that, but this is just a starting point)

Photographing exteriors:
• If you are faced with a tall building and you (now) know that it is going to look all wonky, get back, far back if you can and shoot from a distance. You may need to change lenses or crop in later, but this will stop you tilting your camera upwards.
• Fix it in Photoshop: Again, grab a grid or some line-guides, select the whole image, drag out the walls till they are straight and then, oh, you are left with a squished looking house; no worries, drag the whole image upwards to reinstate its correct proportions. – Simples again!

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