Wide angle lenses fit entire scenes, cityscapes, and structures into a single image — but the wider a lens gets, the more prone it is to distortion. Cityscapes become dotted with structures that would topple in real life and the sleek lines of a stunning structure become something reminiscent of an optical illusion. Photoshop’s Perspective Warp tool, however, can turn what the camera captures the scene as you saw it in real life. This photo editing tool allows users to draw simple boxes over the geometric shapes in an image, then manipulate those shapes back to where they should be, so the skyline on the left becomes the much straighter skyline on the right.
That straightening is all possible with a few minutes in Photoshop and the Perspective Warp tool. Here’s how.
Perspective Warp Basics
Photoshop has a number of different warp tools, and the Perspective Warp is one that’s designed for architecture and other geometric shapes and creating realistic warps, while Puppet Warp is best left for abstract shapes such as enhancing a photograph of smoke. The Perspective Crop tool creates a similar geometric correction, but will also crop off the edges of the image where Perspective Warp offers both more control and less loss on the edges.
In order to be able to fine-tune the Perspective Warp photo editing effect later, turn your photograph into a Smart Object first. This isn’t absolutely necessary, but without this step you won’t be able to go back and edit the warp after you’ve completed it. To make a Smart Object, select the layer the image is in, then go to Layer > Smart Object > Convert To Smart Object.
Next, select Perspective Warp from Edit in the top menu. (Don’t see the Perspective Warp option? You need to have the graphics processor enabled — head to Edit > Preferences > Performance and put a check mark by the “Use Graphics Processor” inside the Graphics Processor Settings, while also making sure to check “Use Graphics Processor To Accelerate Computation” under the advanced options).
By default, you’ll be placed into the layout mode. This mode doesn’t do anything to the image, but allows you to define the edges of the object(s) you need to warp. Using your cursor, click and drag to draw a box over the shape you want to correct. Then, click on one corner and drag to align the edges of the grid with the edges of the shape, repeating until the entire grid is aligned with the structure. You can draw a box over multiple objects at once, but only if the lines are all distorted in the same direction and to the same extreme.
For shapes with multiple sides, such as a building viewed from one corner, draw a second grid and stretch those corners to cover each side. As you stretch, make sure that the line on the second grid overlaps with the first by dragging until you see the line turn blue. When the line is blue, Photoshop will automatically connect those edges to adjust simultaneously. By drawing separate grids for each visible side of the object, you can then warp the object in three dimensions — if you can only see a single side of the object, then you only need to draw one grid. In the photo above, the building on the left has two visible sides, so two grids were used, while on the right a single grid covers multiple buildings that are seen largely from one side.
If you want to manipulate objects separately, do not overlap those blue edges. When those edges overlap, those two lines will adjust together. (If you need to get two boxes close together but don’t want them to overlap, zooming in will stop Photoshop from automatically linking those lines so quickly.)
Continue drawing grids over each of the shapes that you would like to adjust. When you are finished, click on the Warp mode in the top toolbar, which will move you out of that layout mode.
Next to the Warp and Layout mode adjustments, you’ll see three shortcuts. The first will automatically straighten lines that are close to horizontal, the second those that are close to vertical and the third both vertical and horizontal lines at once. These shortcuts often work well for simple fixes.
To control the warp yourself (or to fine-tune after using a shortcut), click and drag out a corner until the object takes on the desired shape. Once the object(s) all have their desired shape, click on the check mark in the top toolbar to exit the Perspective Warp mode.
Fine-tuning the Perspective Warp
Occasionally, you may need to go back and correctly adjust the warp — without the lines overlapping, it’s a bit easier to see if you got those lines perfectly straight. If you converted the photo to a Smart Object before you started, going back into Edit > Perspective Warp brings up the same options with the boxes you’ve already drawn, and you can continue to adjust just like before. If you need to delete a grid, while in layout mode, click on a line (not a corner) and hit delete on the keyboard.
Now, you may have noticed that Photoshop automatically adjusted the pixels outside of the grid line in order to make that warp. If that leaves you with an odd image or you want further control, once you make your grid around the object, surround that grid with additional grids, locking their edges together, until the entire photograph is covered in grids. Now, if Photoshop warps the background a little too much, you can use those outside grids to reign that in.
If you’re having trouble getting the lines perfect, click on the ruler at the side (for vertical lines) or the top (for horizontal lines) and drag a guideline into the photo, aligning with the object. When you drag the corners to warp, you now have a guide to know exactly how much to adjust that grid to get a perfectly straight line.
Photoshop’s Perspective Warp is a must-have photo editing tool for the architectural photographer’s toolbox, along with coming in handy for landscapes, real estate and many other applications. By correcting the errors from using a wide lens, your shots can look less like the Leaning Tower of Pisa and more like the scene that first took your breath away.