Bear Creek Photography NC | Straighten Up!

Straighten Up!

December 01, 2017  •  Leave a Comment


Kyle Cook


Today we’re going to talk about horizon lines. This is a very common mistake in beginner (and intermediate and advanced) photographers.  In my last blog on one of the elements of composition – the Rule of Thirds – we talked a bit on where to PLACE your horizon, and today, we’ll continue that discussion, but will focus on being aware of how level your horizon line (or your subject, if there is no horizon in the picture) is in your picture.




A telltale sign of beginner photographers (or more advanced photographers that are either not paying attention or are really excited about their subject, or both, as shown in picture of kite surfer) is when the horizon line in their images slant up (or down). “Great” pictures of beach vacations or mountain vistas often showcase a “wonky” horizon line. Now, if you are on a boat, that can sometimes happen. And, depending on the wave height, there may not be much you can do about it. However, most of us (myself not included) are seldom taking pictures while on a boat. Therefore, take heed of the direction of your horizon line. Often, cameras have available grids in the viewfinder (yes, a viewfinder) that not only help you with the Rule of Thirds, but can help you level up that horizon. A level in your tripod or in your camera (also commonly found on cameras these days), can also help you make sure your image is straight, horizontally. Other things that can point to wonky images are trees. Now, all trees are not straight, but most of them DO grow up fairly straight, vertically, and if your trees are all pointing to the right or left, you can be pretty sure your camera is not level. Trees can help you determine if your camera is level when your horizon is not a straight line, such as in the mountains. 


IMG_4358IMG_4358 Can you get a straight image without a level? Most times – using the trees and horizon line clues. However, I have had a photo session where, even though trees were involved, it was rather difficult to feel confident my picture was straight. I DID rely on the trees (didn’t have a level at the time), but still, as I was looking at the picture, it just didn’t look straight. What was the subject? A waterfall (see image). Not all waterfall “shelves” are perfectly horizontal. Some have a tilt to them, and for some reason, it can be tricky to get your horizon straight while shooting. Trees say one thing, and things you think SHOULD be straight across are not. You want to straighten those horizontal lines, but if you do, your trees are leaning! 


Regardless, when you are shooting pictures – whether they are portraits or landscapes, look all around your frame. Are there telltale things in your photo that will give away that your camera was not level?  Sometimes, you can break that rule, (like all other rules – you need to know them before you can successfully break them), but you still need to evaluate your image in the frame to make sure you have the ups and downs going up and down and the sideways things going straight sideways! 


So many things to consider! This is why photographers make images, and amateurs take snapshots. Which do you make?


Until next time,



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