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What Everybody Ought to Know About Verticals

August 27th, 2009

I keep running across real estate photography tours and real estate photographer’s galleries with photos that don’t have verticals that are parallel the the left and right edge of the photo. My reaction is always one of wondering how any one can be charging for their work and have missed this basic principle.

The interesting thing about this is most beginning real estate photographers have to be told that verticals are important. Apparently, it’s not something intuitively obvious. It isn’t an issue in other areas of photography.

First of all, why are verticals even a big deal? The problem comes from the fact that we all live in an environment that as perfectly vertical walls. Try walking into some building that has a wall out of plumb. You’ll have a problem even finding a building that doesn’t have vertical walls, but if you could find one, imagine how it would feel; disorienting to say the least.

Because we live in this vertical world, where gravity defines up and down and vertical defines the direction gravity is pulling, we all have this built-in hyper-sensitivity to vertical. If we walk into a building with the verticals off or look at photo where the verticals are off we feel a tension or uneasiness. It’s an unconscious warning in our head that says, “something is wrong here”. As a real estate photographer you want to keep verticals perfectly parallel with the edge of the photo so this tension is eliminated and doesn’t distract from your main message.

Once you start paying attention to verticals you will find that you can visually instantly spot a vertical that is just off by a hair. This goes on all the time in the PFRE flickr group. Anyone that posts a photo with the verticals slightly off will be told about it. The other interesting thing I’ve noticed is for some people it takes a while to take charge of their verticals. I think there are several things that cause this:

  • Some people thing they are just being nit-picked when they are told about verticals being off.
  • Some thing it’s creative or cool to have converging verticals.
  • The wider-angle lens you use the harder it is to get your verticals perfect right out of the camera. So when you are using a 16 to 24mm lens you have to pay very careful attention.
  • Some people don’t have the software to fix verticals, they try to do it just by using a bubble level in the hot shoe or lining up the right an left sides of the photo in the view finder with a vertical in the photo. Yes, this usually works pretty good, but I find if I shoot 30 to 50 frames in a home, no matter how careful I am, I always have some verticals off that need to be straightened up with PTlens or Photoshop. Vertical correction is not something you can do in Lightroom or Aperture without a plugin like PTlens.
  • Your real estate agent, client will not complain about converging verticals. I’m on a campaign to teach them to but there’s a long way to go on this project!

Getting your verticals straight is JOB ONE. Get this under control before anything else.

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19 Responses to “What Everybody Ought to Know About Verticals”

  • Job One. Yes Larry it is. I dont’ understand why more photographers don’t see this glarring error.

    Michael

  • Larry, hasn’t this been done to death?
    People either get it, and do something about it -or- they don’t care about it. If it’s the later, then no amount of preaching will change that, unfortunately.

    The old saying, you can lead a horse to water, but…

  • This is one of my biggest pet peeves. I as a RE photographer can’t stand that someone would even think to charge for sub-standard crooked photos, but then again it makes my business look better.

  • The first most important thing to a good PFRE image! Somethings can be overlooked or off a little….but not verticals.

  • @Anonymous- You raise an important question, why do I keep talking about such basic subjects. Fact is, that this blog has a very diverse bunch of readers. We have Realtors, people starting to think about getting into real estate photography, beginning real estate photographers, long time real estate photographers and even many world class architectural photographers. So, it’s impossible to write posts that interest everyone everyday. I try to have something everyone each week. This post is categorized “Basics” so I’m talking to those that are just starting out. Hang in there!

  • Thank you, Larry … the information you provide is so important, & your blog posts are a tremendous help. Verticals … yes … mine are better than they used to be, but still not where I want them. But when I see ‘upscale’ publications like this: http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/a1bfba79#/a1bfba79/1
    I’m amazed at just how many images aren’t corrected.

    What’s your take on PTLens vs. the lens distortion filter in Photoshop?

  • @Pam- Either PTlens or Photoshop will work just fine for straightening verticals. For someone that already has Photoshop I recommend using it. For someone that doesn’t have either I’d recommend PTlens since it is $25 USD and Photoshop is $600+ USD. The current versions of Photoshop Elements (~$99 USD) also work well for straightening verticals.

    PTlens actually does more than straighten verticals, it removes barrel distortion which can also be a issue.

  • I’m new to RE photography, and it would help me if I could see before and after examples. Could any of you suggest a link where I could see the difference?
    Thank you.

  • @Don- Here is another post I did a couple of years ago on this same subject that has a before and after example:

    http://photographyforrealestate.net/2007/09/20/my-mission-to-straighten-all-walls-in-the-realm/

  • I try and capture the room as it is (albeit in the best light and presentation possible). I have seen ceilings that aren’t prefectly straight (the house is sinking??) and I’ve left them like that (although I do wonder why sometimes) but I’ve never seen a vertical that wasn’t vertical. There’s just something uncomfortable about converging verticals.

    Out of interest it is normally the first thing I will fix as I come away from the computer feeling quite ill (motion sick?) if I don’t.

  • I see this problem of non-vertical verticals consistently in photos taken by local OBEO and Tourfactory photographers. As a REALTOR as well as a photographer, it drives me crazy that other agents are willing to pay good money for such crap.

  • Larry, I love your website, but if your going to nit pick about little things, and I do agree with you. You should also proof read your articles as this would lead to you being a more credible source. Would you read a scholars thesis if it had grammar and spelling mistakes?

  • […] Source and Read More: phootgraphyforrealestate.net […]

  • In some rare instances leaving verticals uncorrected can enhance…
    http://www.nateart.net/Other/118-Haut-Brion-Ave/9461169_CKeZJ#634759932_UzpUb

  • @Nate- Nope, I don’t agree. You could do a stairway shot like this that didn’t have such wild and crazy looking verticals.

  • @Larry- Thank you for your repsonse… Your opinion noted. I guest beauty is in the eye of the creator.

    -Nate (aka “wild and crazy”)

  • @Patrick- It appears you can use a little grammer ed yourself… “Larry, I love your website, but if [your] going to nit pick…” 😉

    PS – @ Larry… Thank you for providing such a great resource. Much appreciated!

  • @Nate- Your example deserves a more complete response. I admit that every time the opportunity arises I take these overhang shots from second story balconies of foyers or stair landings. I must have I’ve shot hundreds of these shots. I always feel the desire to capture the feel of the space. But in the end they almost never work out. Invariably when laying out the shoot and deciding which photos to use to present the home, these kind of shots almost never are in the final 10 to 20 best shots of the home unless there is some unusual feature like a spiral stairway. I find they almost never feel right because of the wacky angles.

    This same thing is confirmed if you look at publications like AD where there is extensive editing by art directors. I can’t remember a single shot like this I’ve ever seen in AD or a interior design publication.

    I’m like you though, I still shoot them but in the end analysis I realize they don’t make really strong shots.

  • […] Because we live in this vertical world, where gravity defines up and down and vertical defines the direction gravity is pulling, we all have this built-in hyper-sensitivity to vertical. If we walk into a building with the verticals off or look at photo where the verticals are off we feel a tension or uneasiness. It’s an unconscious warning in our head that says, “something is wrong here”. As a real estate photographer you want to keep verticals perfectly parallel with the edge of the photo so this tension is eliminated and doesn’t distract from your main message. – PFRE […]

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