Why do heads get cut off in my photos?

Bear with me, please…I beg you! I haven’t suddenly become a bloodthirsty villain!

The title is designed to catch your attention, that’s all! But I do get a steady stream of emails asking me this question; in fact whenever I do an article about twin lens reflex cameras, the emails start rolling in.

Parallax error is most prevalent with twin lens cameras, but it also occurs with 35mm cameras which don’t use the SLR principle. Ok, next question will be, what is the SLR principle? SLR stands for single lens reflex; with this type of camera, whether it is film or digital, the lens that takes the shot is the same lens that you view the subject with. So how exactly does parallax error come about?

Well, once again, in order to keep things as simple as possible, and to keep newcomers’ attention engaged, I will try and explain as simply as possible.

Let’s take the most extreme case as an example. When I’m intending to take a portrait shot with my Rolleiflex twin lens camera, the camera shows me the subject through the top (viewing) lens, while the shot will actually be taken by the lower (taking) lens. That subtle difference between the taking and the viewing lenses, is called the parallax error, very simply.

So, if I were to press the shutter button having framed my portrait shot as seen through the viewing lens, then the result in my photograph will be that the subject’s head will either be cut off at the top, or in extreme cases such as if the portrait is really close up, the head may not show up at all.

But hang on everyone, there’s no need to throw away your twin lens cameras! Luckily the manufacturers were aware of this fact, and so designed their cameras with built-in parallax correction marks on the viewing screen, usually seen marked in red. To avoid parallax error, all I need do is align my shot within these red marks and safely take the photo, safe in the knowledge that it will be fine. The diagram here shows the marks 3 dashes at the top edge of frame in a camera viewfinder:

This also applies to rangefinder cameras, such for example the Yashica Electro series or even the mighty Leica.

Below is a diagram that explains what parallax error in a rangefinder camera does and how:

diagram courtesy http://www.3photo.com

Here is a diagram showing how parallax error occurs in a TLR camera (twin lens reflex):

And here’s a photo that shows what parallax error can do to your shot:

photo courtesy http://www.flickr.com

There we go! Now you know all about parallax errors, too! Happy shooting!




About filmcamera999

ME & MY PASSION! ok, you probably looked at the length of this "about me" page and thought, god, what's wrong with this guy!....does he have to start telling us his life story or something!!? well, youve come here now anyways, so why not hear what im like as a person, eh? ive been using film cameras for well over 30 years...my first one being the family yashicamat twin lens! over the years, ive both bought sold and collected film cameras...too many to tell the truth! in fact, ive been buying and selling cameras well before the internet came on the scene, so anything you purchase from me is backed by my self-styled moneyback promise.....if you dont like what youve bought, send it back within 14 days and you get all your money back...no arguments!! WHERE I STAND ON THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION! yes, i do use digital as well, but only as a ready-reckoner...i try and take most shots with my simple 2megapixel digicam....if the shot looks good, i pull out my film camera and shoot! i most defintely do not believe in digital manipulation of photographs....that in my eyes is not photography...its cheating! WHERE I USED TO LIVE, WHERE I AM NOW & WHAT I WOULD LIKE TO DO! i used to live in Ontario, Canada, but moved back to the UK a little while ago (its a long story..!)...but now i'm living in the one place i always wanted to be...Vancouver, BC..the next best thing to paradise on earth! as i work as a freelance writer as well as other things, i often find hat my work takes me to europe for short spells, so i get to travel a lot...not a blessing, as i just hate long flights! im a qualified Quality Assurance guy (you know...ISO 9000, auditing, documentation etc) ....99% of my skill-set is transferable so i can handle any admin or documentation-related roles....see you in BC! otherwise, i specialise in ISO 9000 auditing and documentation. my dream? to have my own thriving camera shop in Vancouver BC, whilst living in the mountains somewhere.....the best of both worlds!
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2 Responses to Why do heads get cut off in my photos?

  1. Very easy to understand. Good info.

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