Correcting Barrel Distortion (Part III of Series)


Have you ever tried photographing a room, but couldn’t fit it all into one shot? Have you ever had sellers ask you to make their house look as BIG as possible in the listing photos? Have you ever felt cramped for space when shooting interior photos?

Of course you have – it’s all a part of photographing real estate.

If you’ve been confronted with these problems enough, you may have broken down and purchased a ultra-wide angle lens or fisheye lens to extend your field of view.  These lenses work great for real estate purposes, but your photos may inevitably suffer from barrel distortion.  For example:

Listing Interior with Barrel Distortion

So this is where I’m supposed to start explaining how to correct barrel distortion in Photoshop, and it’s true – you can. Personally though, I find the Photoshop filter does a poor job of correcting barrel and pincushion distortion in comparison with other options. If you want to try it out, refer to Part II of this series and toggle the “Remove Distortion” tab in your “Lens Correction” filter until your vertical lines are straight.  You may find it works well for some photos, but terribly for others.

For now, I’m going to talk about some small-scale software solutions that I feel do a much better job.  More than likely, these more advanced algorithms will eventually be integrated into Photoshop.  Until then, here’s some alternate options:

One of my favorite alternatives is actually a third-party plugin for Photoshop called PTLens that works on both Macs and PCs. PTLens has a free trial that’s limited to ten photos, and can be purchased for $25 US if you like it. If you shoot a lot of real estate photos with a fisheye lens and spend a lot of time correcting them this plugin is a must. Here’s the result that I was able to achieve on my first try, in less than a minute:

Barrel Distortion corrected with PTLens

The interface is easy to use, and it previews your changes live.  The plugin can also correct keystone distortion, but in this case it looked unnatural with perfectly vertical lines so I left it alone.  I did lose some detail in the books/shelf on the left, but that may be because the photo I used was low resolution.

If you’re a Windows/PC user, you may alternatively like RectFish, a standalone application that is restrictively free. In other words, the software is free, but unless you pay for a license you will be restricted to a small export size or watermarked images.  A full license costs $30 US. I really like RectFish, but I found it wasn’t capable of correcting the barrel distortion on horizontal lines, although it did easily perfect the verticals. Here’s a screenshot: It’s a great solution if you don’t own Photoshop, and are looking to keep your software expenses down.  At $30 it does a pretty fine job.  Just make sure the photography equipment you use is supported – more details here.

If you search around, you’ll discover a number of similar applications.  One you may come across is Panotools, which is a very feature-rich and accurate tool for photographers.  I recommend you avoid Panotools as it’s still in development stages, and takes some advanced knowledge just to install.

Feel free to share any tips, ideas, or additional solutions in the comments below.  Happy edits!


  • Jason says:

    Excellent information! We purchased an ultra-wide angle lens a few months ago, but could not easily correct the barrel distortion. We ended up going back to the normal lens and were out several hundred dollars on the lens. With this awesome article we will be able to go back to the ultra-wide angle lens. Thank you, Bryan!

  • Bryan says:

    That’s great news Jason. I’m so glad I could help – especially so, with you hard working Michigan folk 😉

  • Kjeld Olesen says:

    I’d like to add that RectFish does also efficiently straighten out horizontal lines, but for that the rectilinear remapping has to be selected. The “RectFish” remap is specifically for just straightining out the verticals.
    Besides, it uses the actual mapping function of supported lenses to remap, so it is in fact more presice than Panotools which uses a generic mapping function for all lenses.

  • Bryan says:

    @Kjeld – Glad to hear that you’re getting satisfactory results from RectFish. That’s exactly the kind of additional information I like to see in the comments 🙂 Feel free to link to samples if you have any “before and after” samples on the web!

  • PTLens also works just fine with Photoshop Elements ($89 or less) and as a standalone program – no need to use Photoshop. It actually corrects barrel/pincushion distortion specific to the camera and lens used to take the photo so it’s almost automatic. It has additional functions to make vignetting, perspective and chromatic aberration corrections. It’s a lot of bang for your $25!

  • Bryan says:

    Thanks for the additional information Glenda – Your experience and awesomeness is always appreciated!

  • Dennis Liebl says:

    Bryan, can you recommend a good ultra wide angle lens for the Cannon xti Rebel 400D? This is great stuff and I have been procrastinating about getting an ultra wide angle lens for this reason. Now that there is a solution, what lens do I get? Thanks.

  • Pablo Galvez says:

    One other thing… if you take your photos from about waist to chest height and shoot perfectly horizontal, you avoid the other (IMO) nasty effect of the ceiling looking much larger than the floor (or vise-versa).

    When shooting horizontal you get a more natural looking wide-angle photograph than shooting down (or up) at a room.

    My 2c.

  • Bryan says:

    Agree 100% Pablo. I believe what you are referring to is “keystone distortion” which was actually Part I ( and Part II ( of this series 🙂 – Thanks for the tip nonetheless!

  • Bryan says:

    @Dennis – Canon is notorious for having some of the most expensive lenses on the market, so I understand your desire to wait. Wide-Angle / Fisheye lenses are no exception – there simply isn’t an inexpensive version available. As the Rebel XTi has an APS-C sized sensor, you need to first be aware that there is a 1.6X crop factor on the magnification of your lenses. Essentially why they come with an 18-55mm lens rather than a 28-90mm like back in the film days. Great for telephoto purposes, but limiting in wide angle.

    I would suggest the Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM which will essentially give you a true 16-35mm wide-angle zoom (after the 1.6X crop factor) which is an ideal range for RE photography. You can shave about $100 off by going with the Sigma 10-20mm F3.5 EX DC HSM, but if it were me, I’d go with the Canon. Hope that helps!

  • M. D. Vaden of Oregon says:

    @ Dennis …

    The Tokina 11-16mm & 12-24mm are fine choics with exceptional quality and build. And they can be bought for as little as $500 & $600 brand spankin new.

    The former of the two is a f/2.8 lens.


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