The Art Of Distortion

January 10, 2019 | Leave a Comment |



1          Correct lens distortion



2          Remove or reduce panoramic stitch distortions


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3          Modify proportion globally including the aspect ratio of the frame



4          Modify proportion locally within the frame

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5          Change proximity



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.


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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