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CCYL 6: Horizontal Lines

Since most of us are stuck inside our homes or yards, I decided to rerun a series I did several years ago, called Cee’s Compose Yourself Lesson (CCYL).  This is not a challenge, but I suggest you play with new ideas or ways of looking at taking photos.  Hopefully this will fill your day with a little excitement and joy.  Please feel free to play along and join in the fun.

Horizontal Lines

Photography and horizons go hand in hand especially, when you are taking photos of landscapes or anything that has a strong horizontal line. There are basically a couple of things I want to cover in this week’s essay.

Horizons in general

You are the artist and photographer. You can play with your camera to get a slightly different view with changing where your horizon is in your photo. Horizons go hand in hand with the Rule of Thirds which we will cover in later challenges. Depending on where your horizon is, you guide your viewers to what you want to show off in your photo.

Photo as is from the camera.

I took this photo many years ago. I always liked it, but people never seemed to like it as much as I did. I have since learned why. It has both strong vertical and horizontal lines. In this case, the strongest line is the top of the steps separating the trees from the steps.

This is an okay photo. It’s pretty, but where does your eye go, to the stairs or to the trees? I am willing to bet you didn’t even notice that the steps turn to the left. Your eye most likely ends up on the top of the steps and just stays there. That is because your eye goes straight to the horizon in the middle of the photo and doesn’t know where to go next. You might even get the disquieting feeling that you’re missing something when you look at this picture. You should like it but it’s not quite right.

I have cropped this photo a couple of different ways. If I had been a smarter photographer years ago, I would have taken these stairs from a number of different viewpoints, but I didn’t, so I’ll use the magic of cropping to show what a difference using the upper third or lower third of your photo can make in guiding your viewer’s eye.

A High Horizon

 In this photo, I simply cropped to a landscape proportion and cut off most of the green trees. This brought the horizon to the upper third of the photo. Now your eye is really guided to look up the steps. Do you see the moss on the steps? You’ll probably even notice the turn of the stairs to the left. Shifting the horizon up makes the steps the focus of the picture, allowing you to see more of the details of the staircase. The top of the steps is still a great horizon for this photo.

If you keep your horizon high, the viewer’s eye travels up, so the main subject will be whatever is below your horizon.


A Low Horizon

This next photo I kept in a portrait proportion since I wanted to show off more of the trees. I cropped to shift the horizon to the bottom third of the photograph. This makes the steps looks small and trees become the focus of the photo. You even really notice the steps leading up on the left because they are in the trees.

Keep your horizon low, and the viewer’s eye lands on the top two thirds of the photo, making the upper part your subject of focus.

Keep your horizon level

This has actually become a pet peeve of mine. If you are serious about photography, you really need to keep an eye of how level your photo is. You don’t want to see the ocean spilling to one side of your photo. It just doesn’t look natural, especially where the horizon has a strong line. And that is what this essay is all about. If you don’t think it is necessary to have a straight horizon in your photo, think about a couple of things we normally see straight or want to straighten if they are crooked.

Televisions or movie screens are always straight. How many times have you wanted to straighten a picture in someone’s house or restaurant? Our brains like to see a straight horizon.

In this first photo you can see that the U.S. Coast Guard boat and the mountains are tilting downward to the right of photo. Sea sick, anyone? Note: I purposely changed the tilt in this horizon in example below

Here is the photo again with a good horizon.

So when you are taking photos, be aware of where your horizon is and make sure your horizon is fairly close to being level. Many cameras have a 3×3 grid, or a level you can use as you look through your view finder (or screen) that will help with your horizon, too.

If you do take a shot that is a little off, there are a lot of software applications that will help you straighten your lines. I use Bridge, which is a part of Adobe Photoshop, to straighten my horizons when needed. If any of you have software that lets you straighten your horizon, please mention it the comment section below. Other people may be interested in finding easy and cheaper ways of getting a horizon straight.

I usually eyeball to get as straight as photo as I can.  Then any fixes I do in Adobe Bridge.

Here are a few horizons and horizontal line photos.

I’ve gathered a list of challenges and their hosts.  So if you know a challenge host, please direct them to my blog.  Feel free to contact me anytime.  I hope everyone will be able to use my lists.

Qi (energy) hugs


9 replies »

  1. Another great lesson Cee 🙂 My camera has a horizontal feature which turns green when horizontal. I didn’t notice the moss in the first picture which was disappointing as I usually notice things like that. That poor long shed doesn’t get the horizontal but It doesn’t have to be straight line 😀 Yes my OCD wants to straighten the pictures 😀


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