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Where to Place the Horizon Line When Shooting Landscapes

landscape photography tips for placing horizons
Photo by: Evan Leeson

When shooting landscapes, where you place the horizon line in your composition has a major impact on how your picture looks. One can place the horizon at any point in the Y axis (vertical line) by tilting the camera up or down. When placed correctly a horizon could add to the visual appeal of the shot and when placed poorly it could act as a major distraction, competing with other important elements in your frame. Let us look at various options we have for placing horizons while composing our landscapes.

Horizon in the Center Dividing the Frame into Two Equal Parts

where to place the horizon in landscape photography
Photo by: Zev

This is how most amateurs compose their frame, many professionals consider placing the horizon dead in the center very unattractive and they avoid it whenever possible. However there are certain situations when this technique does make your compositions stronger such as when you include mirror reflections of your subject/scene in water bodies and also when you are shooting or intending to crop the picture later in square format. On other occasions it is better to place the horizon higher up or lower down in the frame as it will give your shots more depth and interest.

Using the Rule of Thirds

horizon photography
Photo by: Giovanni Orlando

The rule of thirds could be used as a guideline for placing horizons right. Often what determines the placement of horizon is the type of sky you have, if you have a dramatic sky and need to emphasize it, place your horizon lower down in your composition and if what you have is a boring sky and very interesting foreground then place your horizon higher up in your composition.

Placing Horizon Higher Up In the Frame

composition tips for photography
Photo by: MorBCN

Placing the horizon high in the frame emphasizes foreground details and enhances the sense of distance.  However if you tilt the camera up or down to adjust the position of the horizon, watch out for distortion of any vertical lines, especially at the edge of the frame, e.g. trees, buildings, posts etc.  You will find they will appear as either leaning into or out of the frame, in certain cases these may need to be corrected during post processing.

Placing Horizon Lower Down In the Frame

photography composition tips
Photo by: Martin Sojka

Placing the horizon towards the bottom of the frame is a great way for giving dominance to the upper portion of the image. This is usually done when you have something there which could catch the attention of the viewer, in most cases it’ll be a very dramatic sky.  If you try framing your picture with a low horizon when you have blank, uninteresting sky you are guaranteed to get disappointing results.

No Horizon At All

photography tips
Photo by: Ron Guest

Well it is quite possible to exclude the horizon completely from your shot and this is how photographers deal a scene with a completely boring sky. So if you feel that including the sky is not going to make your picture any better, try composing your frame by completely omitting the horizon and framing your shot in a way that will emphasize the detail on the foreground.

Keep Your Horizon Level – Always

keeping horizon level
Photo by: Schub

One final point, in fact it should have been the first point, wherever you decide to place the horizon in your shots, make sure they are level, a slanting horizon looks unnatural and unbalanced and could easily spoil your shot.
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