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Photo of the Month - exploring the Story behind the Image...

Surp Astvatsatsin Church at the Noravank monastery

Surp Astvatsatsin Church at the Noravank monastery

Year: 2013, Month: September

Armenia > Syunik > Bardzravan

I remember in one of the Marx Brothers movies, a scene where Harpo was unpacking a large carpet-bag, and despite its voluminous size, strained the credibility of the viewers by producing numerous diverse and improbably sized articles such as a dressmaker's mannequin and a full-sized aluminum ladder from its interior. As a travel photographer, I have always coveted such a bag, as an aluminum (aluminium to my British readers) ladder or folding steps would be an extremely useful accessory to any photographer when photographing buildings and architecture.

If you are familiar with my work, you will know that I make great use of wide-angle lenses, and frequently use the widest one available, my 12-24mm zoom at its 12mm setting, to get the maximum depth in my images, and increase the dramatic viewpoint. This image of the 14th century Surp Astvatsatsin Church at the Noravank monastery in southern Armenia gives a good example of this type of shot. The major problem with this technique, though, is that unless you keep the centre of an object at the centre of the image, you will find that the vertical lines within the images start to converge. The further back you tilt your camera, the more pronounced this effect will be.

Of course, the eye of the viewer realises what is happening, and the mind knows perfectly well from past experience that the building isn't really shaped in this way, and indeed uses the angles as a clue to understand where the image was taken from. A slight amount of convergance gives an image greater depth and impact, so is no bad thing, though taken too far, the mind of the viewer rebels at an over-use of distortion. This image probably takes the effect as far as is sensible - any more and the mind would concentrate on the distortion to the detriment of the overall image.

The original RAW image had slightly more distortion than this, but I was able to correct it during the initial processing in Photoshop. As usual with Photoshop, there are a number of ways to alter the image. My preferred way is to use the Crop tool with the Perspective box un-checked. This way, the program reshapes the image within the desired aspect ratio whilst retaining as much of the original image data as possible.

Are there any alternatives to the post-processing approach? Yes, in fact there are three. The first is the acquistion of a tilt-shift lens. Most of the major lens manufacturers produce one. Such a lens has controls to allow the image to be corrected, either horizontally or vertically, so the the converging lines of a building are eliminated. However, do not jump to the conclusion that such a lens is a quick answer to your architectural photography needs. Its not something that you can keep on your camera and click away with as you walk around your subject. Setting up such a shot takes practice and experience. A tripod is usually required. You will also find that auto-focus is no longer an option. The second option is to move your vantage point to some distance from the building, and you'll find that you don't have to hold your camera at such a severe angle, which will minimize the convergence of lines. The disadvantage of this approach is that to fill the frame and tighten the composition you will need to use a larger telephoto lens, and so will lose a lot of the dramatic impact and sense of depth that a wide-angle lens provides. The third and final option is to elevate your position so that your camera is located more towards the centre of the structure and can be held relatively parallel to the lines of the building. One way to do this is to shoot from an upper floor of a building across the way, or climb a small hill if available. Alternatively, you will need Harpo Marx and his amazing disappearing step-ladders!

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