Don't cut your subject in half with the horizon

Don’t cut your subject in half with the horizon


This tip comes from wildlife photographer Andy Rouse and is particularly aimed at those photographing animals – but is a tip that might be applicable for those shooting portraits in outdoor settings.

Andy’s tip is one that I’d never considered before. He explains:

“Don’t cut across your subject with the horizon as it ruins the composition. Either leave the horizon out completely or have the subject on top of it and use the horizon as a natural framing point in the bottom of the image.”

To place the horizon at the top of a frame you might like to try shooting from slightly above your subject and to place it lower in the image shoot from down low.

Andy goes on to suggest that if you can’t avoid placing the horizon in the middle of your subject then to try to cut down the harshness of the horizon’s line by using a smaller depth of field (using a large aperture) to lessen it’s impact.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Graham April 13, 2012 12:52 am

    A good example is taking images of parachutists landing or close to landing, with the open chute against the sky and the person against the mountain in the background, delete delete......Looks like two images

  • Beedee August 16, 2009 03:53 pm

    This is a great tip and the more I read on this site the more I am learning. Thank you to the people who take the time and trouble to pass these hints on to others.

  • Darren July 12, 2007 07:42 am

    nothing personal Charlene - I'm sure a lot of people clicked through on the image to read more about it and see your explanation.

    It's always difficult to get things just right and I think your image is pretty good. If only it wasn't a hill behind the bird and it was standing on the horizon. Doh - not in your control though! Thanks for stopping by!

  • Charlene Burge July 12, 2007 03:58 am

    haha---funny to find one of my photos used to illustrate what not to do--too bad you didn't include the text where I explained that the situation didn't allow me to avoid the horizon bisecting the GBH. ;-) That said--like I said, I got a real kick out of running across my photo as one of the "what not to do" examples. haha

  • Print-Web-Design-Perth June 22, 2007 10:55 am

    This is a great tip however a little confusing at the same time as the photo shows what the tip says not to do. Having said that, this site is a great resource for all things photography and rates very high up in my essential reading of the week! Well done.

  • Rob June 22, 2007 09:53 am

    yes great tip..I hadn't thougt of this before. I'd alwasy watched out fot lamp post growing out of my subjects head but hadn't taken that much notice of the horizon..cheers..Rob

  • Mi Hy June 22, 2007 09:22 am

    it's super smart... i like the aperture part better... since sometimes u just can't help but having the horizon.. all about capturing the moment!!

  • Ed June 20, 2007 04:59 pm

    I think I'm OK with it in the example given, because there's a shallow DOF and the horizon is sufficiently blurry so it's not quite so distracting as it might otherwise be.

  • Augphoto June 20, 2007 04:06 pm

    Maybe a 'little' distracting but, I like this photo and don't think the horizon harms it much, probably because it is out of focus. With that being said, it is a good rule. I'm simply saying that even the best rules can be broken sometime. Again, I like the photo.

  • Darren June 20, 2007 01:19 pm

    Claire - I think the shot could have been improved with a smaller depth of field. Having said this - it does have an aperture of f/6.3 so depending upon the lens being used there probably wasn't too many more stops available.

    Like someone suggests above - perhaps another strategy to capture the moment would have been getting down lower as the photographer to put the bird more against the sky - however this is not always possible.

    I guess I used it as an example simply to show how a horizon can be a little distracting.

  • Keith June 20, 2007 12:16 pm

    This all comes down to focus. Getting rid of the horizon cutting through your subject improves the focus on the stops peoples eyes being pulled away from what it is you want them to look at.

    Great tip.


  • Claire June 20, 2007 10:31 am

    Am I wrong or did they feature this shot of the bird to give an example of .... as stated in the article ...."using a smaller depth of field (using a large aperture) to lessen it’s impact." The horizon is fuzzy.

  • Joseph June 20, 2007 08:42 am

    good tip indeed. Thanks!!!!

    It is necessary to pay attention to the background too even if we always are mor concerned about the main subject.

  • Andrew Ferguson June 20, 2007 06:57 am

    @Arnar: I've heard the advice about not cropping on joints or near them and I totally understand it. If you crop just shy of someone's elbow, their arm has the illusion of going on forever as our brains try and fill in the blanks.

    With regards to horizon-cutting, if you had to do it could you use the rule of thirds again? Have the horizon be not only on the 1/3 or 2/3 line of the photo, but also 1/3 or 2/3 of the way through your subject?

  • T-Will June 20, 2007 06:22 am

    Thanks for clarification, I wasn't sure if the picture example was an example of what to do, or not to do! :-)

  • shroticg June 20, 2007 05:25 am

    it is a matter of composition. in this picture the photographer could have bent down to make the bird prominent towards the sky. here it is mixed up with the background. otherwise a very good picture. rule of thirds is applied except the horizontal line is going towards the upper line of ROT, which is annoying.

  • Neli June 20, 2007 03:38 am

    Great! I never paid attention to that, but from now on I will keep an eye on that! Great tip! Thanks!

  • Donald Davies June 20, 2007 03:32 am

    Great suggestion, sometimes we overlook the obvious, thanks.

  • Lynne June 20, 2007 03:11 am

    I'd imagine that the reason you would not want to have the horizon at a joint (from a design perspective) is that you would have a bunch of intersecting lines drawing your eye (much like an arrow) to a part of a picture that you would not want to do that. It would break the picture up in an unintended part of it and the flow of your eyes would be interrupted. ;o)

  • Arnar June 20, 2007 02:59 am

    Just saw Shane's comment and remember where I read it - and boy, do I feel stupid now :)

  • Arnar June 20, 2007 02:59 am

    One good advice I read somewhere (can't remember where) is that if you absolutely must cut a person or an animal with the horizon (or any other line) - always cut at the middle of a bone and not on joints.

    For an example, you should frame the shot so the horizon is behind the forearm or upper arm instead of through the elbow.

  • Patrix June 20, 2007 02:35 am

    Also, in the picture it would have helped if the dark body of the bird was contrasted with the light sky instead of the similarly colored ground.

  • Larry Eiss June 20, 2007 02:11 am

    Good tip! This is timely for me as I will be doing a lot of outdoor work while on vacation in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State in a couple of weeks.

  • Shane June 20, 2007 01:13 am

    Fantastic - so simple! I'll add that to my pre click checks along with the 'dont cut limbs at the joints' which was posted a few weeks ago :-)

  • chi June 20, 2007 12:17 am

    great tip!!!

  • UncleSam June 19, 2007 11:46 pm

    Kris, just take it "as is" and believe it. The point is that the contrast is different where the object is placed against the sky and the ground, and if the difference is big, it is not pleasant to the eye.

  • mdwsta4 June 19, 2007 11:25 pm

    look at the horizon in the background. see how it goes through the animal's neck? simply put, try not to do that. ha!
    same goes with people. i too, typically find it annoying when someone's head has the horizon going right through the middle of it.

  • Kris June 19, 2007 11:15 pm

    I didn't understand it. Anyone can explain it for me, please?

  • AC June 19, 2007 10:42 pm

    That's a smart idea - will definitely give it a try!