DCFD Engine Company No. 28

Alternative Photoshop Techniques

Alternative Photoshop Techniques

Engine Co. No. 28 – © Copyright 2012 by William Beem

Alternative Photoshop Techniques

Want to know why I named this post “Alternative Photoshop Techniques?” It's because I figured it sounded better than “Fucking Up in Photoshop.”

Despite all of the new tools and cool stuff that Adobe provides in Photoshop with each revision, sometimes I find that I get better results using something wonky that I learned earlier. That really came to mind as I was processing this image of the DCFC Engine Company No. 28 fire station. I took the shot at 17mm with my Nikon 14-24mm lens. Wonderful lens, but not without some dramatic distortion that doesn't really work for architectural shots. Of course, I wasn't thinking about that at all when I took the shot. I was walking back from a visit to the National Zoo and found this station on my way to the Metro station.

While it may not catch anyone's attention who lives there, it was something to me. Keep in mind that I live in Orlando. Our old buildings were built out of twigs and long since were destroyed in hurricanes, so all of the architecture around here is exceedingly dull. There's practically nothing of historical value here, despite many surrounding towns trying to market themselves with labels like “Historic Winter Garden” or “Historic Downtown Sanford.”  Historic, my ass. Washington, D.C. is alive with history and this was one more little piece that I wanted to capture on some overcast and drizzling day.

One of the cool new features in Photoshop CS6 is the Adaptive Wide Angle filter. It's actually fun to use. Basically, it allows you to correct distortion in your images by placing a couple of markers to straighten lines that were curved by your lens. Whenever I see Adobe showcase this tool in a presentation, the audience comes alive with “oohs and ahhs” to signify their pleasure. Then I get home and try it out.  Nothing else I've ever done in Photoshop has screwed up an image so quickly and drastically as the Adaptive Wide Angle filter.

Why? As I straighten one line in the image, the changes warp other lines. You can place more markers in the filter to fix some of those lines, but you just can't escape distortion somewhere in your image using this tool. At least I can't, so perhaps it's all my fault. As I tried it on this building, I actually got the fire station to look fairly decent. Of course, the surrounding area was incredibly skewed and warped. That Coke machine in front of the building swayed so much that it ended up in the shape of a numeral 7. The buildings on either side of the fire station bent sharply inward, In short, your eye would look at the image and be so distracted by those warped features that you'd completely ignore the straight building in the center.

I tried placing more lines on the other buildings, but it was a lost cause. That's when I fell back on a favorite old tool for correcting (somewhat) the distortion of a wide-angle lens – the Crop tool. CS6 has a Perspective Crop tool, but the previous version had a checkbox to enable this feature. All you have to do is align the edges with the angle of the building on either side and then Photoshop changes the perspective to straighten the lines. Very easy stuff.

It's not without its own flaws, either. That Coke machine looks a bit stouter and shorter compared to the original image. On the other hand, it fits within the context of this photo. It doesn't jump out at you as much as if you saw it curved in the shape of a numeral 7. If life and photography is full of compromise, then I'll take the Perspective Crop over the Adaptive Wide Angle filter. That's one of my alternative Photoshop techniques. Perhaps not perfect, but it's quick and it works well enough.

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