Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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I am working on shooting old churches in small towns, and I find that the churches are often very tall, so naturally I want to move far away to capture the whole structure while minimizing converging lines to preserve the architectural "integrity." The problem is that, in the small towns, many of the surrounding buildings are packed in so close to the church that it is difficult to shoot from a distance without obscuring much of the bottom of the church. Furthermore, due to the nature of the tight proximity with other buildings, a tilt shift lens cannot really provide much assistance (I actually have one and have tried).

With all this in mind, my goal is not actually to avoid converging lines or distortion. Rather, I would love for others to share examples where photographers actually handle these problems gracefully, and create beautiful imagery. Does anyone have any great examples of shooting taller structures from nearby? I am currently attempting to use a 16-35mm range, so perhaps an emphasis on good practices with wide angle lenses though I am open to other, longer focal lengths are also OK.

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possible duplicate of Will a tilt-shift lens solve my 'leaning building' shots? –  dpollitt Sep 10 '12 at 17:55
    
I have edited my question and would like to emphasize that I am not attempting to avoid the problems of distortion and converging lines - rather, I want to know how others handle these "problems" gracefully in a manner that still shows a building effectively. –  Daniel Smith Sep 10 '12 at 21:30

5 Answers 5

The problem you'll generally have is distortion from perspective with wide lenses close up. The best way around this is with a lens designed to correct for it and these are the tilt/shift lenses. There a few different makers, you didn't specify brand, of these lenses at differing focal lengths.

Wiki has a writeup on the concept.

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If you want to shoot tall buildings in close proximity in camera then you're only option is a very exotic pens like the Canon 17mm tilt shift lens. This will easily cost you $2500. This will allow you to point the camera dead ahead and simply shift the lens in order to get the top of the church in. Any time you point the camera up you will get unwanted converging verticals.

Thankfully there is a much cheaper option, and that is to shoot a vertical panorama (exactly like a regular panorama but you move the camera up instead of sideways). Assemble the panorama using a rectilinear projection (instead of cylindrical) and you can correct the converging verticals in Photoshop. You can theoretically achieve exactly the same result using this method as you can with a tilt shift lens.

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You really have two separate issues. You need a wide angle lens to capture the whole church. There is nothing you can do about this. And you need to shoot with the horizon of the photo level with the real world horizon. This is where tilt/shift lenses come in. They let you hold the camera level and move the image up.

Most tilt/shift lenses are also wide angle, but the two issues are technically separate. You could just use a normal wide angle, shooting level, and crop away all the ground in the foreground. Most folks dont' want to do this, hence the small market for tilt/shift lenses.

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I don't know how much can a tilt and shift correct but is at least as expensive as your 16-35. When i want straight buildings with the same lens i go as far as i can, i zoom as much as i can, and keep as perpendicular as i can so i don't have much distortion. The frame might not be so good but i crop and distort more in PS.

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One way to avoid converging lines in the structure (without special lenses) is to get up as high as possible, preferably to about have the structure's height. Of course, this may be difficult or impossible to achieve. Use a wide-angle lens to show the entire building, and make sure you hold your camera as level as possible.

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Maybe asking a few friendly neighbours if you can photograph from their upper windows? Nearby pubs would probably be a good bet too. –  Clara Onager Sep 11 '12 at 8:58

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