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Using the transform tool to straighten verticals in architectural images

When shooting architecture, you quickly notice that if you point your camera up or down, the vertical lines of a building will converge. It’s just perspective, and while it happens with any genre of photography, it’s more noticeable with architecture. In some cases, it can be a great tool to create drama, but in other cases, you may want to keep these verticals straight.

One of the ways to do that is to use a tilt-shift lens, which is a specialty lens that allows you to keep verticals straight with the shift function. The tilt function moves the plane of focus, which can be useful for hyperfocal distance or to create those miniature effects. I’ll write more about it in a future article.

However, unless you shoot architectural professionally, like me, you’re unlikely to have one of those. They’re expensive and have only a very narrow purpose. So what do you do if you don’t have a tilt-shift? You use the Transform tool in Lightroom (or Photoshop). So let’s dive into this (the process is similar for Camera Raw in Photoshop).

For example, one the left side below, you have the original image, with the background building leaning backward. I wanted the lines of the white building to be vertical, to emphasize the black sculpture in the foreground (right).

So how did I do that? In Lightroom, head over to the Develop module. On the right, you’ll find the Transform panel. For our purposes, you can ignore the sliders below unless you want to do everything manually.

Let’s start with the six buttons (see below). Auto will guess what you want to straighten. Level will correct horizontal lines. Vertical will correct vertical lines. Full will do both. It’s always useful to see if one of the automatic options will work first, it might save you time.

Transform Tool - Default Options
Transform tool — default options

But, oftentimes, it doesn’t work, or it’s just not quite right. This is why my favorite mode is Guided Upright. It allows you to tell Lightroom exactly which lines you want to straighten, by clicking the button at the top left of the panel (see below).

Once you’ve clicked on the button, you can draw guides by clicking to place the first point then dragging along a line finishing the line with another click. It will tell Lightroom what to straighten. Draw two vertical guides on parallel parts of the structure. You and also add up to two horizontal guides. In the example below, I  simply drew two vertical guides to straighten the background.

Transform tool — guides

I find that drawing guides close to the edges of the image gets you much better results than if you put the two guides in the middle of the image. Don’t forget that when you straighten an image like this, you will lose parts of the image, so anticipate on location and shoot a little wider if you know you’ll want to straighten your image.

Correcting symmetrical images is another useful way to use guides. The image below looks slightly off: It leans to the right but I couldn’t fix it by rotating the image with the crop tool.

Original image

So, I used two horizontal guides and two vertical guides to make sure everything was perfectly aligned. With reflections and symmetry, you don’t always have to be on a line, you can also draw the guide to join a point and its reflection/symmetrical.

Transform tool — guides

I encourage you to play with the guides. Get used to finding which lines to draw on. It takes a little bit to get used to it, but once you get it, it’s easy and fast! I use the Transform tool on so many images! It’s so easy once you know how to use it, so go ahead and try it on a few images!

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