Straightening Verticals When Working From Photos

Photos often distort shapes and edges. When working from photos in your painting, you want to make sure these distortions are not transferred to your painting. This lesson shows you how to straighten vertical edges.

Working From Photos

Many watercolor painters use photos as the basis of their paintings. Since cameras are built into our smartphones, it is easy to take snapshots of subjects and scenes we might want to paint later.  It is often the tendency to copy the photos them exactly, including everything. Sometimes the ‘everything’ includes an unwanted companion known as parallax distortion.

Parallax Distortion

Parallax distortion occurs when the camera lens bends or tilts the edges of objects in the picture. The effect is most obvious on long, straight edges – both vertical and horizontal. The most pronounced effect happens on objects that are nearer to the camera and on objects nearer to the edges of the photo.  It is less pronounced, or not evident at all, on more distant objects.

When working directly from a photo, it is important to find and fix these distortions. It is especially important to fix the vertical edges that represent corners – either interior or exterior.  Corners that seem to be slanted give the impression of a building that is not standing straight.

This lesson shows you how to fix those edges that are slanted but should be vertical.

What you’ll need

Only a few items are needed for this lesson:  most importantly, you’ll need a square edge – the edge of your easel of table top will work, along with a t-square.  If you happen to have a surface with a raised edge – like a pencil stop – you can use that along with a triangle.  You’ll also want tracing paper, a sharply pointed pencil or two, and eraser and artist’s or drafting tape.


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