Not having the horizon in the right place or focusing so much on other aspects that you forget to check that the horizon is actually straight is an easy mistake that many will hold their hand up to making.
This doesn't mean you can't experiment with horizon angles but if you do, you need to make it obvious as a small tilt will just look like you didn't check the viewfinder before hitting the shutter button. The same goes for the positioning of the horizon as if it's positioned badly, it can distract the viewer as well as spoil the composition of your shot.
How To Keep Horizons Straight
To stop your landscapes looking like they're going to slide out of the side of the frame, consider investing in a small spirit level (if your tripod doesn't already have one) that can be attached to your camera or, if your camera has one, use the grid intended for helping with the rule of thirds as a guide as even though this isn't really what they were designed for, they're made up of straight lines so can be helpful when struggling to tell what level is.
Where To Put The Horizon?
It's important that your horizon doesn't cut through the centre of your image, If the sky's more interesting move it down and if the land's what the viewer should be looking at move it up. That way, they'll know where their focus is meant to be.
If you're at the coast, shooting the sea and the sky has particularly interesting cloud formations or it's an amazing sunset, lower the horizon so the sky fills most of the frame. But if you want to include some foreground interest or create the sense of distance in your image, move the horizon up. Just remember to use a small aperture so you get front-to-back sharpness.
Of course, there are times when breaking the rules do work, such as when your photo includes an eye-catching reflection in a lake, so don't dismiss putting your horizons in the centre of your images completely.
There may be a time when you're shooting a landscape where the shapes and patterns of the land are enough to hold the viewer's attention so removing the horizon completely from the shot would work, too.
Photo by David Clapp
How To Adjust The Horizon's Position
You can either tilt the camera, move its position higher or lower or take your shot as normal and crop the image later when you're in front of your computer.
If you have lots of vertical shapes such as trees and tall buildings in your shot, tilting the camera can cause perspective problems. However, if you're at the coast without a building in sight you should be fine.
To give your camera more/less height adjust your tripod's legs. Just make sure the locks are secure before you start taking your shot as you don't want your camera to start sliding down while you're trying to frame up. If you need more height you can adjust the centre column but do adjust the legs first before doing this as the legs offer a more stable base to work with.
How To Fix Horizons In Old Photos
If you do take your shot and get home before you realise it's slanting to one side or you look back at landscapes you've taken previously and notice the horizon's not quite right don't worry; a simple crop in Photoshop will have your image back upright. You can also crop your shot to shift the position of the horizon, too.
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