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Thread: Alignment workflow (architechture)

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Feb 2016
    Fredericksburg, VA

    Alignment workflow (architechture)

    Hello, I have a problem with my architectural shots - I level the camera, use the glass grid along with front rise to get parallel sides, and use the glass grid to check for level against some roofline element. If I have a level camera but not a level roofline, windowline etc, then either the building is not level or I am not square against it's face and need to adjust swing. I usually check for swing-squareness by looking at focus on both sides wide open, and make the rotational adjustments on the tripod head, usually necessitating picking up the tripod and moving left/right to recenter. This method only gets me 50/50 perfect squareness. I have rotated the attached scan to align the left vertical correctly, you can see the error in the other dimensions. I am wondering what are the checks to do in the correct order to keep from making one adjustment throw off something you already checked.
    Click image for larger version. 

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  2. #2

    Join Date
    May 2015
    SooooCal/LA USA

    Re: Alignment workflow (architechture)

    All of the elements you listed are correct, and you are looking at the right parameters, but these can be tricky...

    I'm thinking this is from a combination of two parameters... First, it is hard to find the point directly in front of this building, and second, the camera rotation on its head throws off the side alignment... You then tend to adjust for one line on one edge of the frame, but other lines start wandering...

    A good exercise to demonstrate the phenomenon is to hang a painting or tack a poster to a wall and try to get it square... You will see the other lines wandering as you correct for one, and with some very slight head rotation, things change again... You find camera placement/alignment is key...

    Try to find some vertical lines AND horizontal lines to square, and use shift and rise to do final framing... It may take a while, but the critical balance point is there... ;-)

    Steve K

  3. #3
    Christopher Barrett's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2014

    Re: Alignment workflow (architechture)

    The left and right verticals are not parallel, indicating that you have a little tilt to the camera. I always start by setting tilt, so that the camera is plumb and then adjust pan to bring the horizontals into parallel. Also, I never trust levels on tripod heads or cameras, but rather use a small torpedo level on the lens and groundglass.

    Hope that helps,

  4. #4
    Eric Woodbury
    Join Date
    Dec 2003

    Re: Alignment workflow (architechture)

    Never trust a horizontal. Go vertical.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    Collinsville, CT USA

    Re: Alignment workflow (architechture)

    Years ago photographed 46 plus buildings in our town for a historical brochure and walking tour. For a little less than half of the structures I discovered that the building's verticals were not vertical but slightly out of kilter. Rooflines were better but central sagging of the ridge beam/board common. Circa late 1800s factory buildings were mostly brick and one stone. Walls were pretty much vertically true, but with most of roofs that wooden rafters and were anything but level/square. At the time was using a plain GG on my 4x5 and trusted my levels... big mistake. Over the years I have found that camera levels are not very accurate, and the bubbles on the worst offenders took a half minute to come to complete rest. An architectural photographer friend of mine used a set of precision levels. I had started the project with a modern wooden 4x5 view camera because of its portability, but quickly changed to using a Sinar Norma. I doubt that any flat bed camera (Linhof being probably the exception) is a good candidate for architectural subjects... in my opinion.

  6. #6
    C. D. Keth's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Salt Lake City, UT

    Re: Alignment workflow (architechture)

    You just need the back to be parallel to the building face. Lots of ways to figure that out. You can do it by eye. You can use a compass, sidewalk or parking lot lines. I would use a better level than the little bubbles on the camera. Those are too prone to error.

    If I did this shot, I would do the following:

    1. Walk to the spot that produces the perspective I want between elements in the desired frame. Put on the lens that will see the amount of that view that you want. Walk in/out as needed.

    2. Put your lens where you eyeballed the right perspective from.

    3. Level your tripod crown and then your camera bed/rail in every way you can, looking flat at the building. Don’t worry if this doesn’t make the frame you want. The building should look square.

    4. Use rise, fall, and shifts to make the frame you want. The building should still look square.

    5. Focus, noting that moving the rear standard out of parallel with the building will ruin the formal frame you have painstakingly set.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

  7. #7
    ic-racer's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2007

    Re: Alignment workflow (architechture)

    ...I level the camera...I usually check for swing-squareness by looking at focus...

    Only one condition need to be satisfied:

    1) Film plane parallel to the building

    Any issue with the camera base being off 'level' can be easily corrected by rotation during printing, so this is not a critical component and it can be ignored.

    Using any means of 'focus' to determine if the film plane is parallel to the building is conditioned upon the front and rear standards being parallel (laser alignment at least) and would questionable in the field.

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Newbury, Vermont

    Re: Alignment workflow (architechture)

    Don't start by looking at the building. Instead, first completely level the tripod head/camera base. Then bring the standards into parallel with each other, and ascertain that the lens is on axis with the film. Now, from your desired vantage point - focus on the building. If the perspective seems skewed, rotate the whole camera to straighten things out (this gets your film plane parallel with your object plane). Then, either work from this position and fine-tune your composition by utilizing lateral (left or right shift, rise, or fall) movements (do not rotate the camera!), or move your position to get closer to your actual preferred vantage point, and fine tune again (if necessary) using lateral movements. IMHO, it is much better to get things straight in-camera if you possibly can.

    Edit: For the above to actually work, you must first know that your camera is well enough designed and constructed (and cared for) that it can be brought into known good alignment, in all ways. Often overlooked is that the film plane, after aligned to be "axially" correct and in-parallel with the lens plane/position, can still be very slightly rotated itself...typically the result of poor execution in manufacture or some impact (damage) while in use. Also, if the camera features a rotating need to know that any detents and/or witness marks are correctly aligned.

    Also...if you are wet (darkroom) printing the image, be sure to very carefully check your negative before loading it into the enlarger, to ascertain that the image is properly aligned. If the print then looks "off," you will need to consider your enlarger's alignment, and/or that the individual blades of your printing easel are actually square to the other blades.

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Sep 1998
    Oregon now (formerly Austria)

    Re: Alignment workflow (architechture)

    It's not that hard. The trick is to look for pairs of parallel lines at the sides of the image first. Note that you need pairs of lines, one at each extreme of the image. Just using one line to square to will never get you parallel. All you need is a good gridded ground glass. You don't need to worry about camera precision, leveling your tripod or anything else; you'll be adjusting all that. Here's my method:

    1. Get the vertical lines parallel: Level your camera back roughly and point your camera at the horizontal center of your desired image (don't worry about the center top-to-bottom, just right/left). Now, use the gridded ground glass and your tripod head front-to-back and side-to-side tilts to position the camera to get parallel lines on either side of the image exactly aligned with the grid marks. Once you've done that, lock down your tripod head and don't touch it anymore. Don't worry about horizontal lines yet. Don't worry about the exact composition yet either.

    2. Align the horizontals: Now, find some parallel lines at the top and bottom of the image and swing your camera back to get those exactly aligned with the horizontal grid marks. Note: don't use the pan on the tripod head! Unless you have set up your tripod exactly level, using the pan will move the back away from the parallel vertical position. Once you have horizontals aligned, lock down the camera back's swings and don't touch them anymore. You can't rely on just one line, and especially not a line in the center of the image. If you have to use rise/fall to get some horizontal lines positioned at the top and bottom of the image, do so. You aren't composing yet.

    3. Compose and focus: Now, you've got the camera back parallel to the façade, but likely not got the composition you want, so use rise/fall and shift to frame your shot the way you want it. If you've used swing to bring the back parallel horizontally, you'll have to swing the lens stage for focus to compensate. Now, check focus at both sides and at the top and the bottom and adjust the lens stage if needed to get what you want in focus (see, we're not relying on camera precision to preserve focus, but actually focusing).


    The only problem that can crop up with this method is that you run out of rise/fall and/or shift before you get the composition you want. If so, you'll have to start over using the "point-and-swing/tilt" method. For example, let's say you don't have enough rise. Zero the rise movement and then point your camera up to get the approximate framing. The verticals will converge, of course. Now, tilt the back to get the verticals parallel with the grid marks and tilt the lens to get everything in focus. Use rise/fall to fine tune. The analogous procedure works for running out of shift. Point the camera, swing back to parallel, swing lens to focus.

    One more tip: If you've got foreground in your shot, a tiny bit of front tilt can help with depth-of-field issues quite a bit. Say we have a mansion and a front yard. Pick a focus point low and close (at the top of the ground glass) and one high and close (front of the roof line). Tilt to get both these sharp. Now check the focus spread between close and "far," which will now be at the bottom of the building where it converges with the ground. Often, this will reduce the focus spread a bit compared to having lens and back parallel.

    Edit: Yet another tip (after reading the above post). Even if you don't get everything exactly parallel, you can compensate in the darkroom by propping up the easel accordingly. I do this all the time, either because I've not adjusted the camera as carefully as I could have or because I didn't have the movements to get everything perfectly parallel when making the negative. It helps to leave a little room to crop if you plan on doing this. I've found that I can easily prop up the easel up to 2 inches for both 11x14 and 16x20 prints without worrying about focus issues. More than that and you need to be able to tilt your enlarger lens (my Beseler has a tilting lens stage).

    Hope this helps,

    Last edited by Doremus Scudder; 17-Feb-2020 at 11:28.

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Feb 2016
    Fredericksburg, VA

    Re: Alignment workflow (architechture)

    Thank you all, you are appreciated greatly. I have a Berlebach Report 332 wood tripod which has a proprietary ball head-- if I want to change heads I have to first spend 120.00 for a Berlebach flat plate! I'm a little mad at this because so many of the lighter weight ball-heads have a pan base. I believe the fix is to mount a pan base (Feisol) atop the ball head, so that I can follow this workflow:1) level the camera 2) adjust verticals using rise, 3) adjust horizontals with pan (rear swing if necessary) 4) recenter with front shift if necessary. Doremus - I see your note about not using pan for leveling horizontals, but the whole premise is that I am not square face-to-face with the building, and so I want the lens and the film back together as a unit both to be square so shouldn't I use pan to level horizontals before resorting to rear swing? Fix verticals first, then horizontals, then fine tune composition with front movements only.

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