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Alex Hare Photography

Prague: when a wide angle lens just isn’t wide enough…
Landscape &Travel Photography Techniques

Apr 15th 2014

During a recent trip to Prague I found a viewpoint over the market and city skyline from an adjacent tower that I knew could look amazing at dusk with all the lights on.  Problem was, even my 17mm wide angle lens wasn’t enough to fit it all in.

In the past that would have been that and I’d have had to make do with whatever I could fit into the lens.  Apart from the restricted view, I‘d also have the problem of converging verticals; that thing that happens when you point your camera up or down at a vertical subject.  It makes it look odd, unnatural even, except in some cases.  With a wide angle lens it really does look weird though and best avoided.

This is my 17-40mm lens which is not a perspective control lens.  Pointed up at the vertical buildings the edges of the frame are clearly not parralell with the rising edges of the buildings and the Cathedral tower appears to lean in, or converge, in the middle of the frame.

Fortunately, I have the Canon 17mm TSE (perspective control) lens and this gives me a significant Plan B in these situations.

Whilst this lens is usually used to increase depth of field (with the tilt function) the shift function makes architecture a dream to shoot.  By shifting the lens down, then in the middle and then shifting to the top, I can shoot three images of the scene which are all perpendicular to the senor (so no converging verticals) and stitch them together to form one, mega wide image.

Here’s what the three separate shots look like:

This is the bottom of my composition and so the lens is shifted down as far as possible, note how the edges of the buildings are paralell though wit the edge of the frame.

This is the middle shot, with the shift setting on normal, just like any other lens.  But because the camera is paralell to the scene the verticals are still upright.  Note how their isn;t much of the scene included in the bottom though, even with this 17mm scene.  Sometimes you just find yourself in a tight spot with no where to back up to for a beter view.

Here's the top shot, with the shift almost fully up.  I needed to keep a bit of an overlap with the last shot for the software to be able to do the stitch and I didn't realy need that much sky, just more than was available with a normal single frame in this instance.

We’d normally use the photomerge function in our software to stitch a panorama going from left to right together but it works equally well with a vertical stack of images.  Here’s the finished result with these three frames blended together into one single shot:

Now we have the angle of view I wanted from my restrcited viewpoint; plenty of that lovely sky above the Church of Our Lady all the way down to the market taking place in the square below.

I don’t use this technique very often, in fact only when I need the extra width from this technique and keep the scene looking interesting.  Under normal circumstances, a 17mm lens is often far too wide and makes things in the distance look really small, losing impact in the image.

However, in places like Prague where you are in a tightly packed space with soaring architecture it makes all the difference to the results I can get.

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