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  • Austin James Jackson

How to Warp Your Landscape Photography to Create Compelling Images

Have you ever been out shooting a scene, and find that your subject just doesn't seem as large in your photo as it does while you look at it in person? Maybe that mountain in front of you looks short, or the sea stack you're shooting is too small in your frame. These are problems caused by wide angle distortion, which is found when shooting with a wide angle lens. Distortion can stretch things on the outside of your frame, and suck in on subjects on the inside of your frame. Next time you're out shooting, put your subject in the center of the frame, and then take another shot where the subject is at the top of your frame. You'll notice how much taller the subject looks in the photo where it was at the top of the frame.

This distortion can be partially fixed in Lightroom by selecting the option to correct profile corrections, but often times, your subject just seems too small. When this problem presents itself, I often times will warp my image to attempt to recreate the scene I saw when I was out shooting. Many photographers avoid warping, as they want to keep their photos as true to the raw file as possible. However, I believe in taking creative freedoms to attempt to overcome the limitations of the camera and wide angle lenses. You can decide where you stand on warping, and if you opt for creative freedom, read on! In this blog post, I'll be showing you how I go about warping my images.


Creating a Warp:

First off, it's important to warp in moderation. Warping can reduce sharpness and cause unwanted effects on your photos if taken too far. Warping is best done small and thoughtfully. It's important to carefully choose what you want to warp in your image, and have a purpose for doing so.

Step 1: Open the Image in Photoshop

Whether you did your editing in Photoshop, Lightroom, or somewhere else, you'll need to open the image in Photoshop. Generally, I'll warp my image at the very end of my processing, so that I can easily go back and fix the warp if I decide that I don't like it. If I did the warp at the beginning, I wouldn't be able to go back and edit the warp without deleting all of my layers in between, or creating a new warp, which is not ideal.

Step 2: Set up the Warp

Select the layer containing your photo, and be sure to stamp all visible layers into one if you are working with layers in photoshop. Then, go to Edit > Transform > Warp. You should see small circles appear on the outer edge of your image (see picture below). This indicates that your image is ready to be warped.

photoshop warping for landscape photographers
The small blue circles on the edges of my image indicate that it is ready to be warped.

Step 3: Warp

You can now begin to warp your image. I recommend warping mostly using the small blue circles (I call them handles) on the edges of your photo. Always drag these outwards, away from the center of your canvas. If you drag them in, you'll see that you've created a blank spot on your canvas (see photo below), meaning that your photo will no longer fill the frame. Dragging the two blue handles on the top middle of the photo is my favorite way to warp mountains in the center of my frame. These handles can drag the center of the image up, without effecting the foreground, or bottom of your image.

photoshop warping creating white space
Dragging inwards on the arrows creates a blank space on the canvas, which is something I want to avoid.

You can also click and drag directly on the image. However, if you try and grab the photo and warp from the edges of the photo and warp inwards, you'll create the same empty spot that you would when using the handles. If you drag from the center area of the image, you're able to pull any direction without creating any empty space. I recommend trying both types of warping, but be careful not to create any empty space.

photoshop warping handles
The final warp may look like this. Not a lot of movement, but just slightly dragging on a few of the handles.


Things to Watch Out For:

Excessive warping causing a significant loss of sharpness. Too much warping can cause your image to lose sharpness. Photoshop is very good about minimizing this problem, but it is still present with a very heavy warp.

Pulling the corners of the image inside the canvas, creating blank space on the edge. Make sure to warp outwards, in order to keep the corners of your canvas filled in.

Unrealistic looking warps. Most landscape photographers go for a realistic look and feel to their images. If you do a lot of warping, things just won't look right. But if surrealism is your thing, go for it!

Don't feel obligated to put a warp on every photo. I only warp a select few of my photos, so don't force it if the photo does not need it!


Examples of Warps, Before and After:

The differences in before and after images are very minor, but they do help. Check out these images and see if you can tell a difference!

before warp

after warp
After. You can see I warped the cactus slightly so it took up more of the foreground, as well as straightened out the mountain.


After. I added importance to the hole and the tree by making them slightly bigger, drawing my viewers eye into the scene.