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Where to Position that Horizon?

Where to Position that Horizon?

Horizons can be quite divisive, both in terms of composition and opinion.  If used correctly, a horizon will either add to a composition or go unnoticed, however, if positioned poorly, it can become a competing element, distracting attention away from the main areas of interest.

One of the main ‘rules’ you often see written regarding horizons is that they should never be placed in the centre of the frame, but positioned closer to a ‘third’.  As with most rules, there are plenty of times when this can be completely disregarded, so here are a few guidelines to help you to decide where to position the horizon when composing your shot.

A low horizon

Placing the horizon towards the bottom of the frame is a great way of emphasising a dramatic sky.  By placing the horizon low in the frame, you are giving dominance to the upper portion of the image and so, ideally, you want to have something there to keep the attention of the viewer, i.e. don’t do this if the sky is completely clear, as you will be dedicating over half of the frame to an empty blue sky, and that will not hold interest for long.

A low horizon

A low horizon gives dominance to the sky to help emphasise the movement of the clouds

A high horizon

Conversely to above, placing the horizon towards the top of the frame gives dominance to the lower portion of the image, allowing you to emphasise foreground detail to draw the viewer through to a sky.

A horizon high in the frame

An empty sky and a foreground full of detail made the choice of where to place the horizon in this composition very easy

In both of the above cases, if you tilt the camera either forwards or back to adjust the position of the horizon, be aware of distortion of any vertical lines at the edge of the frame, e.g. trees, buildings etc.  You will find they will either lean into or out of the frame, and may need to be corrected during post processing.

Horizon in the centre of the frame

This is probably the most difficult horizon to handle, compositionally, as it is very easy for a scene to appear unbalanced when the horizon is so close to the centre of the frame.  If you are going to take this approach, it is a good idea to ensure that the horizon is bang in the middle as positioning slightly above/below may look as if you were intending for central positioning but were sloppy in either composition or crop.

A centred horizon works very well when dealing with reflections as, by default, the composition is easily balanced.

Horizon in the centre of the frame

A centred horizon can work very well with reflections

Also, given that the frame is going to be split in half by the horizon, it is wise to ensure that there is something that breaks the horizon line, from land to sky, to ensure there is a relationship between the two halves of the image.

horizon - centre but broen

The two posts that break the horizon here ensure that the sky and foreground are linked, and are not seen as two separate elements

No horizon

Whilst discussing horizon placement, it is worth considering the option of omitting the horizon entirely.  If the sky doesn’t add anything to the scene in front of you, consider leaving it out and focussing on the detail of the landscape alone.

No horizon

You can choose to omit the horizon entirely and focus in on detail within the landscape

So there you go, a few things to help you consider what it is you want to capture about the landscape in front of you, and how that can help you determine where to position the horizon within the frame.

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Elliot Hook
Elliot Hook

is a wildlife and landscape photographer based in Hertfordshire, UK. Elliot loves being outdoors with his camera, and is always looking to improve his own photography and share what he has learnt with others.

Elliot also can be found at his website, on Twitter, Flickr and 500px.

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