The Art Of Distortion

January 10, 2019 | Leave a Comment |

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1          Correct lens distortion

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2          Remove or reduce panoramic stitch distortions

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3          Modify proportion globally including the aspect ratio of the frame

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4          Modify proportion locally within the frame

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5          Change proximity

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6          Enhance gesture

We accept the distortions angle of view and lens choice create without a second thought yet rarely do we give a second thought to the possibilities of expressively distorting our photographs during post-processing. The dazzling array of new tools at our disposal begs us to reconsider this. You need to know what’s possible, whether your goal is to correct the distortions introduced by the tools you use or to aesthetically refine or expressively enhance your images, a little or a lot, or to simply know what other photographers have done so that you can understand their creations better. Learn to see with new eyes and a vast new horizon of possibilities will reveal itself to you.

Awareness of the distortions produced by an angle of view and lens choice is the beginning of using them creatively. Curiously, permission is the beginning of using distortion in post-processing creatively. Many people have been told that it’s inappropriate to do so. Why? Why accept an unintended mechanical bi-product but not a consciously intended effect? Why take such a powerful tool for expression off the table? While you can, you don’t have to distort your images to the point that they look like they’re being seen in a fun house hall of mirrors. Even the subtlest applications of distortion can produce powerful results. Once you understand what kinds of distortions are possible in post-processing you’ll frequently find yourself changing your angle of view or repositioning yourself during exposure.

6 Strategies For Using Distortion In Images

Here’s a short list of six strategies you can use when considering distorting your images creatively.

1          Correct lens distortion; straighten a horizontal or vertical while correcting barrel or pin cushion distortion.

2          Remove or reduce panoramic stitch distortions; undistort edges or smooth out uneven horizontals or verticals.

3          Modify proportion globally including the frame; make images more or less horizontal or vertical or even turn one into another.

4          Modify proportion locally within the frame; adjust the height and width of both objects and areas.

5          Change proximity; push together or pull apart items.

6          Enhance or change gesture; make a leaning object more tilted or straighten it out.

 

Photoshop's 11 Weapons Of Mass Distortion

Here’s a short list of ten go to tools in Photoshop that you can use to distort your images creatively.

1          Angle of view

2          Lens choice (with or without swings and tilts)

3          Lens Correction (with or without Upright)

4          Pinch

5          Transform – Scale, Rotate, Skew, Distort, Perspective, Warp

6          Content Aware Scale

7          Adaptive Wide Angle

8          Vanishing Point

9          Puppet Warp

10        Perspective Warm

11        Liquify

(Stay tuned for detailed examples of each of these tools.)

Make It Selective

 Distortion tools become even more powerful when you consider localizing their effects.

How you choose to accomplish this depends on whether the newly distorted areas overlap (grow larger) or leave a gap in (grow smaller) surrounding areas. In both cases, it’s advisable to keep distorted information on separate layers. Simply duplicate a layer before distorting it. This makes blending it easier and it allows you to go back to undistorted versions. If the distorted areas overlap, mask the distorted areas you wish to hide. Smooth or textured areas often support soft edged masks, while contours typically required harder edged masks. In some cases, you’ll encounter combinations of both. If the distorted areas leave a gap, retouching is required. Try Content Aware Fill before the Healing Brush Tool or Clone Stamp tool.

Should you make a selection before applying distortions locally? Only if doing so provides a better preview or significantly reduces file size, but remember that you can always delete excess pixels after an effect has been blended with the background so delay making this decision as long as practical. In general, it’s advisable to distort areas larger than you plan to use and then mask off the excess. If a distorted object is surrounding by texture, smooth or chaotic, masking and blending will be made significantly easier by this additional information.

Conclusion

These sophisticated distortion capabilities are relatively new and so is the mindset. Both are worth acquiring. Everyone can find a use for them, at one time or another, if not on every image. As every photographer uses distortion to one degree or another, ultimately what separates photographers is not whether they use distortion but when, how, and why they use it. The same tools can be used to achieve entirely different effects. There’s a world of difference between using distortion to remove process artifacts for more accurate representations, using distortion to aesthetically refine the formal qualities of images, and using distortion to expressively interpret subjects. Intent is everything. Simply asking yourself how far you’re willing to go and why will help clarify yours.

Read more in my Distortion lessons.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

 


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Do you wish you could improve the quality of the images your lenses deliver after exposure? You can, using software. Adobe’s Lens Corrections feature uses a digital image file’s EXIF metadata about camera and lens to automate cures for standard lens distortions, including geometric distortion, chromatic aberration, and vignetting.


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Awareness of the distortions produced by angle of view and lens choice is the beginning of using them creatively. Curiously, permission is the beginning of using distortion in post-processing creatively. Many people have been told that it's inappropriate to do so. Why? Why accept an unintended mechanical by-product, but not a consciously intended effect? Why take such a powerful tool for expression off the table? Even the subtlest applications of distortion can produce powerful results. Once you understand what kinds of distortions are possible during post-processing, you may even find yourself changing your angle of view during exposure.

There are many reasons why you might want to distort an image. Here are four:

1. Correct optical distortion that can be produced by many things, including lens choice, angle of view, motion, panoramic stitches, etc. You can choose to make the selection of a wide-angle lens less about distortion and more about including more.

2. Modify proportion; adjust the height and/or width of objects and/or areas. Just for starters, take off the 10 pounds that the camera adds on.

3. Change proximity; reduce or increase the spaces between objects. Make things feel more or less related.

4. Enhance or change gesture; make a leaning object more tilted or straighten it out. Think of this as adding the words "very" or "less" into a sentence.

When exploring the many distortion tools in Photoshop, you'll find that the Liquify filter is one of the most powerful. The Liquify filter is so powerful that, when in use, it offers its own toolbar and menus, somewhat like Camera Raw. To get the most of the Liquify filter, it's worth taking the full tour ...

Read all the details on Digital Photo Pro.

Photoshop's sophisticated distortion capabilities are relatively new to photography and so is the mind-set of using them to photographers. Both are worth acquiring. Everyone can find a use for them, at one time or another, if not on every image. As every photographer uses distortion to one degree or another, ultimately what separates photographers is not whether they use distortion, but when, how and why they use it. The same tools can be used to achieve entirely different effects. There's a world of difference between using distortion to remove process artifacts for more accurate representations, using distortion to aesthetically refine the formal qualities of images and using distortion to expressively interpret subjects. Intent is everything. Practice is a reflection of intent. Simply asking yourself how far you are and aren't willing to go and, finally, why, will help clarify yours. Consider these questions seriously, and you'll find your vision will grow stronger and clearer.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.


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"Watch as Photoshop Product Manager, Stephen Nielson, shows new Perspective Warp in Photoshop CC. See how you can fluidly adjust the perspective of a specific part of your image without affecting the surrounding area, change the viewpoint from which an object is seen, and seamlessly composite images with different vanishing points or camera positions."

Find out more about the new Photoshop CC (14.2) features here.

View more Photoshop Videos here.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.


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The four most important lines of any image are the ones that are often least recognized consciously – the frame. Second only to these are the lines that divide the frame, creating frames within the frame. Becoming more aware of how the frame can be used and how it can be divided will help you make more successful compositions.

There are many ways the frame can be divided. You can divide the frame horizontally, vertically, or diagonally; in each case the layers included define the virtual space presented. Different areas in an image can be divided differently. You can divide the frame (or a frame within the frame) multiple times; the more times the frame is divided the more packed and dynamic it becomes, progressively growing more design oriented and finally being reduced to pure texture. Each operation has significant consequences.

One of the most significant results of dividing the frame is the creation of specific proportions. (The combination of the individual aspect ratios of each element creates a new unified aspect ratio.) Much has been made of the ‘rule of thirds’. Dividing the frame into three parts (left/center/right or up/middle/down) is a simple and often useful strategy for making images more directed, by prioritizing one element over another, and dynamic, through imbalance. Too little has been made of other ratios. What of fourths, fifths, sixths, sevenths, or eighths? No musician would be content to only divide an octave into halves and thirds. Every proportion produces particular effects, which are further modified by placement (high/low or left/right) and content. Rather than a rule to be adhered to, proportion is a force to be explored expressively.

When it comes to controlling the division of the frame in your images, you have more options available to you than you might think. You can crop, retouch, distort, or composite. These four operations can be used in combination with one another. For instance, you may decide to first crop an image and then distort it to a standardized aspect ratio. Or, while maintaining a frame of the same aspect ratio, you might increase the scale of a selected area only and in the process crop a portion of it. Many other permutations are possible.

If you find these many new possibilities dizzying, you get it. The only way to understand this intuitively is to explore your options. The development of new possibilities encourages us to ask new questions and develop new habits. For what effect are you dividing the frame? To that end, how many different ways can you think of dividing the frame? My advice? Develop the habit of exploring your options before settling on final solutions, ones that help you create your strongest statements.

Read more at Digital Photo Pro.

See my related post Exploring The Expressive Possibilities Of Aspect Ratio.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.


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Learn some advanced tips and techniques for working with Adaptive Wide Angle inside of Adobe Photoshop CS6. This tutorial will give you a detailed look at the built-in correction tools that help you adjust the lens distortion in your own images. If you are ready to move to the next level in Adaptive Wide Angle then this video is for you.

View more Photoshop videos here.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.


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