Saturday, April 11, 2009

Parallax Error

Do you take pictures of someone and even though you had the shot perfect in the viewfinder, when you snap the shot, the top of their head is chopped off? This might help you. There's a ton I don't know yet about photography but I do like to pass on what I do know.

I took this shot yesterday afternoon with a point and shoot camera. I was just playing with composition. Even though I framed it right, as you can see I chopped off the top of the maple tree buds.
This is often because of something called a "parallax error". This happens when using a camera with two lenses, one is used for taking the picture the other lens is the viewfinder. Usually the viewfinder is located above the camera lens. The two lenses see ALMOST the same thing but not exactly, as I've drawn below. The red lines are what the camera lens "sees" and the blue represents what the viewfinder lens "sees.

In the above picture, the top of the head won't be cut off. But, the closer you get to your subject, the parallax error has more of an effect. So in the shot below, the viewfinder would show you that the picture is framed correctly but when you snap the photo, the camera lens is going to cut our poor model's head off.

DSLR cameras eliminate this problem entirely because there is only one lens (single lens reflex). What you see through the viewfinder IS coming from the camera lens. A lot of point and shoot digital cameras also now use a through the lens (TTL) viewfinder. But cheaper digital cameras and any non-slr film camera will be affected by the parallax error.

How do you fix it? Just be aware and allow for a little extra room up top when framing a picture. Be very careful to adjust for it when taking close ups.


  1. I know I said this already, but this stuff is helping me understand what I am doing wrong, cool!
    Also Owen told me never to center a person in a shot, so you can crop and edit them, or it off balances the shot. Me, I am just a point and click girl...cook way better...

  2. That explains a lot! Thanks for the tip :)

  3. Thanks for always sharing your tips. Much appreciated! Happy Easter :)

  4. Hmmm, do these ideas apply when we are working with say a cheap point, press button, cuss a few times till Nikon takes picture and shoot camera?

    And, I have to ask, what is that thing hanging down from that tree? I'm thinking your trees on your side of the country are um, different then the trees on my side of the country!

  5. This is a great tip! My biggest problem right now is with manual focus. I focus till *I* see something right in the camera, take the shot, then load it up to find it blurry. Sometimes it's because of my hands shaking (I know I know..use a tripod) or because I didn't set it right and the conditions were too dark etc..but MOST of the time I find it's because I don't wear my glasses when I take lenses don't feel good up against the view finder, I take them off adn then I don't *see* things correctly. A huge PITA for me! I can't wear contact lenses and it's unlikely I'll have laser surgery any time soon and I HATE wearing my glasses so it's likely going to be hit or miss for me until someone comes out with corective lens lenses! LOL

  6. oh by the way..I've changed my name...I go my Nature Girl now..I'm trying to be "blog elusive"...

  7. It's still an incredible shot! Oh, and please thank Alexis for sending me that...ahem...highly personal shot of you for my blog on the, uh, economy...BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!

  8. Doh, that's why! Thanks for the tip.