Film photography · Medium Format · Photography

Converging verticals

A chap I know who shoots exclusively in large format claimed that I’d damaged his eyes with the converging verticals in the shot below. He suggested I take the picture again with my 4×5 camera. He was joking, of course, but it did make me think about the opposition to this geometrical distortion when it occurs in photographs.

Converging verticals seem to cause quite some consternation when they appear in photographs – the photography club I used to be a member of had photo competitions where, should your vertical lines not be perfectly perpendicular, you would lose points and receive a judgemental comment from the, well, judge. It was this sort of arbitrary nonsense that, in combination with covid shutting everything down for some time, led to me stopping attending, even though the other club members were all very nice people (and I should emphasize, the judges were not members of the club).

Converging verticals are how things appear to the eye though, so attempts to “correct” them is inheritantly false unless the photograph was made from a location where they do not occur, such as ensuring the camera is aligned with the ground, or you are so far away that the effect becomes minimised by distance. Stand at the foot of a tall structure though, especially one with regular features such a an office building with regularly spaced windows, and look up and you will see converging verticals. It’s just perspective. In exactly the same way that a long straight road will appear to narrow to a point in the distance, so looking up at a tall building will show the same effect. And I never hear anyone complain that photographs of roads should have the perspective corrected.

I do think that some shots can work well if the verticals are all perpendicular, especially where the angle of convergence is only slight but, as a counterpoint, convergence can add a sense of scale. The photo published here today does this, even though the buildings are not tall. Combined with the steep street the buildings appear to loom over the viewer.

I am kinda interested in seeing what the same scene would look like “corrected” by the movements on my large format camera though. 🙂

North Church Street

Bronica ETRSi & Zenzanon 50mm f/2.8 MC & Ilford HP5+. Ilfotec DD-X 1+4 9 mins @ 20°

Taken 5 February 2023.


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