I live in a big city, so it follows that I do a lot of shooting in, and of, a big city. What’s the most dominant feature of a city? Quadrilaterals. Square stuff. Rectangular stuff. We throw in the odd curve, or circle, every once in a while to mix it up a bit, but for the most part, we love our flat edges and 90 degree angles. They’re easy to build, connect, and maintain, which means we’re safely ensconced (believe me, now more than ever!) in our own little Tetra Paks™.
Taking pictures of this stuff, -especially with a wider lens, which is generally preferred for this sort of thing, usually poses a challenge. Do I correct it, do I ignore it? Do I modify it? Can I use it for effect? As always, getting the shot as near to what you want the end result to look like is best.
Making the decision isn’t always easy. Trying to ‘square up’ an image with converging parallels, say, can drive one mad. There’s been plenty of times where I held the camera high over my head, in an attempt to reduce distortion and shot, hoping for the best. I’d probably buy a tilt-shift lens if Fuji ever makes one, but because it’s such a specialized lens, the jury’s still out on whether that’s going to happen.
Then, there’s the option of correcting it after you’ve got the shot, which means stretching the corners until your angled lines are straight. I’ll sometimes do it, but usually what you end up with is stretched buildings, and perspectives that look oddly fucked up, but you can’t quite put your finger on why.
It’s because our eyes work that way too.
In the above picture, I was fairly certain that as I ascended the stairs at Union stn., the walls weren’t about to close in upon me the higher I went, as if I were in some claustrophobic nightmare. There’s a hallway here at home in my flat, and if I turn and look down it, from where I’m sitting, the floor appears to rise up all the way to the kitchen at the end. Sit at the other end, and it would appear to rise up in the opposite direction. (I really don’t think I would have moved into a place where I’d have to walk uphill in both directions!)
It’s because of the vanishing point illusion. Remember folks: people walking away from you don’t appear to be getting smaller, YOU are getting bigger!
Here’s a picture I took long ago, using a wide angle lens to show converging verticals… (ok, ok, I’m calling bullshit on myself -I really didn’t know what the fuck I was doing…) of Toronto’s dearly departed Honest Ed’s.
Horizon’s level, but Ed’s looks like it’s about to collapse onto Bloor st. The traffic standard in the centre is perfectly vertical, but it would seem that the pedestrian window-gazing on the right is about to have a hard time of it, as the sidewalk appears to be sloping into the street the further she goes.
Vanishing point illusion.
I’m usually not too bothered by a bit of distortion in my own shots, but it’s nice to know you can correct some of it when you want to. If I’m thinking about messing with perspectives, it usually means that I’m REALLY messing with perspectives. Hey! Why bother with a firecracker when a nuclear bomb guarantees you’re gonna get your point across?
I did a whole series of the above sort of thing a couple of years back. (Reminder to self: Do some more) Fuck with the perspective? Why stop there? Let’s warp the goddamned thing, and blur the shit out of one side -more than the other. Add in some other fake shit, like water stains, and scratches… then, it’s no longer a photograph, it’s ART!
I liked how it turned out so well, I made a big print of it, and hung it on the wall.