Messin’ with Perspective

During our trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park at the end of the summer, I continued playing with perspective in my shots.  The new camera I got last year has a tilt-out screen allowing me to see what I’m shooting even if I can’t shoehorn my body into position behind the viewfinder – a handy feature to have as I get older and I get a little less nimble!  What I discovered during this trip is that this new little trick can really mess with your head when it comes to perspective in a picture.  Naturally, that’s made it my new favorite toy to play with!

I started experimenting with this new technique on our first morning hike on the dunefield.  The low angle on the old, weathered tree stump made it a touch more interesting than just the simple straight-on shot.

Downstream Driftwood

Next up was some greenery.  That’s when things started getting interesting… judging from the picture, is this a 4-inch tall weed or a 3-foot high bush?

A Weed or a Bush?

Believe it or not, that’s just a random weed on the dunefield that’s only a few inches tall!  Looking at the shot on the camera after I took it, I was pleased with it.  It wasn’t until post-processing where I realized that the super-low angle really messes with how to interpret this picture.  Kinda fun!

The next morning, the sun was out in all of its glory, making for better photography conditions.  That’s when we stumbled on this sand… cliff or ridge?

Cliff or Creekbed?

It doesn’t look it, but that’s really only a 6- or 8-inch ridge of sand left from Medano Creek earlier in the season.  When I looked at the picture when we got home, I couldn’t believe how tall the ridge looked!  It reminded me of the cliffs you see along some of the Pacific coast beaches.

Last-up, I tried applying this technique to the ripples in the sand created by the wind on the dunes themselves.  I don’t think it warps the perspective quite as much as the weed or sand ridge, but it lent itself to grabbing detail and playing with depth of focus in the shot.

In the Ripples

I’ll certainly be doing more of these shots down the road.  Can’t wait to see what I can come up with to turn a mundane shot into something really special!!

– JC

Warped Perspective

Don’t worry – this post isn’t some deep, meaningful, philosophical, thoughtful spew of perspective on the world.  I’m merely talking about perspective in photos and how tools – cough, Photoshop – can help with that.

For years, I’ve wanted to get shots of a plaque embedded in the sidewalk of downtown Longmont of the original map of those who founded the town ages ago.  Since it’s in the middle of the sidewalk, you can’t really get straight ahead on top of it to get a shot at the right angle without too much skew in the lines.  Bummer for me because it’s a pretty cool inlay.  (Remember – I’m also married to a self-professed map geek.)

While I was shooting the “Play the Plaza” art installation, I figured I’d take a stab at snagging a shot or two of this map in the sidewalk.  I’ve waited this long, so why not?

Since I wasn’t carrying a ladder to setup in the middle of downtown, the best I could do was stand on the edge of a stone flowerbed nearby.  That gave me this shot:

Original Shot of the Longmont Chicago Colorado Colony Map
Original Shot of the Longmont Chicago Colorado Colony Map

Detail was certainly good enough, but the perspective wasn’t thrilling me.  I knew in the back of my head that Photoshop’s Puppet Warp feature might be able to help me here – so long as I had the patience to place and move pins around to get the image to look right without skewing it entirely out of whack!

Cut to later that afternoon and I’m processing all my shots from the day when I get up to this one with the map.  What to do, what to do?  I make my usual toning adjustments, some sharpening, etc. and then tackle the big one – how to change that perspective?

Well, with my new camera’s arrival, that meant a long-delayed Photoshop upgrade for me.  (Fantastic – just one more minor thing to learn while I figure out the new equipment…)  I went poking around to see where Puppet Warp went hiding in the menus of the latest software and I saw an entry for “Perspective Warp”.  Hmmm… certainly sounds useful, if you can believe the name Adobe used for the feature (which isn’t always the case).

Wincing just a little bit, I clicked “Perspective Warp” and waited to see what happened.  Not much – since it was waiting for me to do stuff.  I quickly figured out what it was aiming at and in just a few minutes, I took my original shot and got it looking more or less exactly how I wanted it – like I was on a ladder standing directly on top of it!  (All without googling for tutorials, no less!!)

After some fine tuning and some other clean-up on the image, I ended up with this:

Longmont Chicago Colorado Colony Map
Longmont Chicago Colorado Colony Map

After years of literally walking over this map whenever we’re downtown, I finally got the shot I wanted (with a little help!).  I’m so stoked about how this shot came out that I may end up printing it for display in my home office.

I’m anxious to try Perspective Warp on other scenes down the road and see what results I get.  This picture turned out to be a simple example to work with because it is so linear in nature, but I’m so pleased with the results that I can see how this new tool may help me out down the road when I can’t possibly climb up a tree or a rattlesnake-filled hill to get the exact angle I want on a shot.

– JC

More Great Sand Dunes Shots

I added a few more new shots that I snagged on my phone during our Great Sand Dunes trip to the gallery today. There’s a few from the storms that were blowing through the afternoon we arrived, and another that gives some great perspective on how big the dune field really is. Head on over to Galleries -> Colorado -> Great Sand Dunes and check ’em out!