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How To Take The Perfect Vertigo Photo

Dennis Maitland's 'Life on the Edge' photos are intensely beautiful, but also kind of make you want to throw up. Maitland explains how to take the perfect puke shot.

Posted on April 6, 2012, at 1:56 p.m. ET

1. Get elevated

Maitland loves urban exploration and he's been photographing Detroit for years. "Some of these buildings I've been to 50 times each," he says, "and I wanted to show something people haven't seen before." So he climbed up an old building in Windsor, across the river from Detroit, threw his legs over the edge and started shooting.

2. Find an odd feature, other on the ground or on the building

"The only process is, I poke my head over the edge and see if I can see something interesting, maybe a pattern," says Maitland. An odd texture on the side of the building will help give it extra depth, as will something like a fire escape.

3. Play with symmetry

For maximum disorientation, look for symmetries and exploit them. This'll give the composition an almost Escherian quality.

4. Keep everything in focus

Maitland shoots with his aperture set to f/11, which helps keep both his feet and the ground sharp. "That's just a trick of photography — bringing everything into focus," says Maitland. The effect is surreal because even the human eye doesn't really see like this — normally your eye would focus on either the close thing or the distant thing. With a closed aperture, you can focus on both.

5. Shoot with a wide-angle lens

Most of Maitland's shots were taken with a 10-20mm lens. "Part of the benefit of the lens," he says, "is the distortion factor — people aren't used to that wide of an angle."

6. Use a fast shutter speed

Set your camera's shutter to at least 1/200th of a second. In combination with the tight aperture setting this may make it hard to get enough light in the shot, but Maitland says you don't really have a choice: "When you're sitting up there, you hands are going to shake." Crank up your ISO settings if you have to.

7. Get some cool shoes

The vertigo effect has as much to do with the shoes in the foreground as it does the ground. Maitland prefers Nike 6.0s. I think flip-flops would be great, too, just dangling there.

8. Don't trespass

If you must take a puke-shot of an abandoned elevator shaft, try to get permission.

9. On second thought, don't do this at all

You'll probably just end up killing yourself. Leave it to the pros.

All photos reprinted with the photographer's permission.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.