The Art Of Distortion

January 10, 2019 | Leave a Comment |



1          Correct lens distortion



2          Remove or reduce panoramic stitch distortions


3b_Reflection_XXV_5 copy

3          Modify proportion globally including the aspect ratio of the frame



4          Modify proportion locally within the frame

5a_Antarctica_2009-CII copy


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.


Insights Members can login to read the full article.

Sometimes perspective is everything.

Insights Members can login to read the full article.


Svetlana Tepavcevic makes abstract black and white images of waves that look like ink paintings.

We discussed the importance of scale and presentation agreeing that classic photographic small scale matted approaches reduced the impact of the images. A larger scale with a different presentation format will highlight the more painterly concerns of these images. So will appropriate materials - something matte and fibrous.

The source files aren't super high resolution, but that's a non-issue because the treatment of the subject supports substantial upsampling. It's another case of how the "rules" are only useful guidelines that identify significant considerations and raise important questions but there are always exceptions. They say "Exceptions prove the rule." And, there's an art to knowing when to make them.

See more of Svjetlana Tepavcevic's work here.

Learn more at Brooks here.

Be the first to hear about the next FADP workshop.

Stay tuned to Insights for the upcoming release of our Fine Art Workflow DVD.

Check out Mac Holbert’s website.

Find out more in my Fine Art Digital Printing Workshops.

Read more

Insights Members can login to read the full article.

Scale changes ideal viewing distance.

To see a 4x5” print you have to get close to it. You can’t see anything but its shape and color from the end of a long hall. To see a 6x10’ print in its entirety you have to stand well away from it. If you stand very close to it, you won’t be able to see the whole image, much less anything else.

The rule of thumb for determining ideal viewing distance is to stand at three times a print’s diagonal dimension. This tends to place the entire image well within a viewer’s field of vision in such a way that overall general detail can be resolved at once, minimizing panning and scanning.
Of course, zooming happens. Both artists and viewers tend to view works of art from many different distances; examining details closely and evaluating a total composition distantly. Viewing distance changes perceived scale. Viewing distance subtly changes the quality of the viewing experience. So viewers tend to compare a variety experiences, dynamically forming a total impression of a work of art.

What do you think the ideal viewing distance for prints is? Comment here!

Check out my Printing downloads here.

Check out my DVD The Art of Proofing here.

Find out about my The Fine Digital Print Workshop Series here.

Insights Members can login to read the full article.

Printing – Test Scale

September 10, 2008 | Leave a Comment |

When it comes to scale, there are many factors involved - aesthetic, practical, commercial. To determine what scale(s) is most appropriate for your work, you need to weigh all of these factors and their importance to you. Only you can determine this. My recommendation is to test scale with your work. View your work (projected and/or printed) at many different scales. If possible, make side-by-side comparisons. Do this and you and your work benefit in many ways. There’s no substitute for actually experiencing what scale can do to or for your work.

Do you have to settle on one size? Certainly not. If you choose to present your work in multiple scales, that is a statement in itself. An artist makes many choices in order to craft a total statement with his or her work. Your choices determine what your work becomes. Make your work even better. Make conscious informed choices.

Do you have a favorite scale for photographs? Comment here!

Check out my Printing downloads here.

Check out my DVD The Art of Proofing here.

Find out about my The Fine Digital Print Workshop Series here.

Insights Members can login to read the full article.

Printing – Big Prints

September 9, 2008 | 3 Comments |

Scale can have a dramatic impact on the way images are experienced.

We've been printing up a storm here! All the prints are made on an Epson 11880. The prints can be very large. Up to 64". How big do I typically print? Generally under 30x40". Would I like to print bigger? Yes! Why don't I print bigger more often?

Here's the problem. How do you handle them during production? How do you present them (framed or unframed)? How will they fit in the exhibition space? How do you store them? When you get really big, all of these practical considerations become really significant.

New possibilities bring new opportunities and challenges.

How big have you printed? What did you do to overcome these considerations? Comment here!

Check out my Printing downloads here.

Check out my DVD The Art of Proofing here.

Find out about my The Fine Digital Print Workshop Series here.

Insights Members can login to read the full article.

keep looking »


Get the RSS Feed  

Subscribe by Email