I’ve gotten quite a lot of questions, lately, about straightening photos. When it comes to old photos, especially those taken outside, without benefit of a tripod, you’re going to, without a doubt, come up against some off kilter ones. It’s pretty inevitable. Especially way back when people were first able to get hand held camera’s and take their own pictures, there wasn’t all the technology we see in camera’s today. In fact, it wouldn’t be too far fetched to say they were basically just looking into a box! Most of the inquiries I’ve gotten deal with old photo’s, but I even had one dealing with straightening a product shot of tartan plaid! This technique is perfect, for old and new photos alike, as long as they have a reference line in them, a straight line of some kind, to guide you as you straighten.I first published this straightening tutorial on Janinealogy a year ago. Given all the questions, I thought I’d go over it again. I hope this ends up helping someone!
Wonkie images. I personally, have a million of them in my personal collection. A lot of them are caused by the cameras that were used, The old box cameras, like the brownie, which were, basically a big ‘ol honkin box with a relatively tiny hole for a view finder that you were supposed to hold still while you took the photo. Face it, even though tripods existed, most regular folks didn’t have one. Another reason for all the wonkie photo’s in my collection could be my grandmother. Bless her, every photo she ever took listed to the left. It’s like she had her own style. Nana-Cam.
I have this great photo of my great-grandmother, Annie Schaumanns house. You can see someone sitting in an upstairs window, and in the other upper window, what looks like the foot of a brass bed. It’s just a great picture of a really neat old house. I want to restore it, but it was taken with Nana-Cam. I’m not at all sure Nana actually took it, but someone with her skill set certainly did. So the first thing I need to do is straighten it. I could set guides around two sides to make a straight guide while I go into free transform and…OK, let’s not. Let’s do it the easy way, shall we?
In Photoshop menus, select Filter > Distort > Lens Correction. Uncheck Show Grid at the bottom of the dialog box and select the Straighten tool (Top, left hand side, second tool from the top).
Find a line that should, theoretically, be straight. The bottom of the house, the porch rails, the porch ceiling line, just find a line that should be straight, horizontal or vertical, and trace that line with the Straighten tool. Boom! Unwonkiness is abounding. Now, check the Show Grid box, double the tiny grid size to 32 (or whatever you like) and change the color of the grid to something that shows up well on your photo (I used a value of #00EAff). Use this to check the straightening and fine tune it, if necessary.
Since the last line we straightened by was horizontal, I’m going to check this one by a vertical line. I used the corner of the house as a guide and zoomed in 200%, just to see the line clearly. I used a horizontal line the first time, so I used a vertical line to tweak it, this time.
In this case, the vertical and horizontal lines won’t both straighten up. Either the horizontal lines are straight, or the vertical lines are straight. You can try to clean this up by using the Distortion slider in the Lens Correction dialog box.
I, personally, was bugged by the fact that when I had most of the major vertical and horizontal lines straighter, the posts on the porch were way wonkie, so I decided to use the vertical line I’d used, the side of the house, as my guide and leave it slightly off kilter. It’s “crooked” enough that it retains perspective but not so much that it looks like it was taken by Nana-Cam!
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