Sunday, August 05, 2007

Basic Photography Notes: The Horizon Line

One of the first things that comes up in a basic photography class is the placement of a horizon line in landscape photographs.

There seems to be a basic human impulse to place the horizon line in the center of the frame, dividing the image into a top and bottom half. That sort of division, however, is usually less dynamic than a 1/3 to 2/3 split, so one of the first lessons for landscape photographers is to divide the frame into three parts and place the horizon line 1/3 from the bottom or 1/3 from the top of the frame. After a while that sort of composition becomes second nature, and becomes a basic tool for most photographers.

There are always exceptions of course. Above is a snapshot I made of the Central Park Reservoir. I've purposefully placed the horizon in the center of the frame, but the stronger element of the railing is placed 1/3 from the bottom of the frame -- making the image read as divided into that traditional 1/3 vs 2/3 split.


clickykbd said...

Besides suggested horizon placements having exceptions... there is always the "other" way to consider framing a shot... which this example is perfect for. Framing is the act of deciding what to include, and what to exclude. Going with a horizon at bottom 1/3 would have excluded the bottom of the fence, and perhaps included too much trees. Framing at the top 2/3 would have likely excluded trees, and included undesirable street beyond the curb. So the gut "this feels right" composition included pieces of all those elements, despite possibly deviating from long-held matras about good composition.

Ted Fisher said...

Well put...


amit said...

thank you for the suggestion is to lower the horizon line instead of keepin it in the middle..try it

Ted Fisher said...

I'm not sure what you mean, amit. That is, I mentioned that the traditional idea of bringing the horizon down to 1/3 from the bottom of the frame is a good idea, but the point is that it isn't for every scene.

So, while lowering the horizon is a great idea on (for example) a typical desert landscape, the specifics of this shot probably wouldn't work well with that strategy. One solution, if there was a reason we absolutely needed that low horizon, could be to take the shot from a higher angle.

The trouble would be all the joggers cussing at me and trying to knock me off of my ladder.

Thanks, however. One of the most common improvements that come up in my classes as people try their first purposeful compositions is to try the same shot in several different versions. While my first instinct would be to lower the horizon, and I probably did take that shot too, it's important to realize when the basic rules need breaking. I felt this was one of those cases.

Usually, I find the reservoir actually works better going the other way -- 1/3 from the top.

For example:

Mrs4444 said...

Well said, but more importantly, I wish people would spend time making sure the horizon line is STRAIGHT (yours is perfect.) That drives me batty.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree Mrs, I hate it when I take what seems to be a decent shot at the time (I'm just a begining dslr user) to then find out when I look closer, that it was actually slightly off! Thanks for the advice all.