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Dash of Inspiration: The Visible Horizon

March 11, 2013

A Dash of Inspiration, A Cup of Creativity by Doreen

The Visible Horizon

Today’s topic was a request from the GCU community.  So what do the reviewers mean when they refer to a crooked horizon?

First let’s talk about the horizon line in visual art.  If you’ve ever taken a beginner’s drawing class, one of the first things you’ll be taught when learning how to draw is to first establish your Horizon Line by drawing a faint horizontal line on the paper.

In photography, the subject of today’s discussion, the same theory applies when framing through the viewfinder. A Straight Horizon is one of the first things taught in a beginning photography class.

Looking at a photograph with a tilted horizon causes havoc in our brain due to conflicting input between the inner ear and the brain.  So our brain wants to tilt our head to straighten the horizon, yet our inner ear keeps sending out input that we are already level. Customers are not drawn to crooked horizons, so it’s no wonder GCU is declining them as unmarketable.


No matter how gorgeous a photograph is, if the horizon is crooked, the photo is useless.  There is no stock agency  and no publishing company that will accept a photograph with a horizon line that is falling out of the image … and neither will GCU.

2013 nene image 1

Photo courtesy of Lauren – The crooked horizon in this image deems it unmarketable.

In landscape and scenic photography, the horizon line comes into play any time there is water meeting land, water meeting sky, sky meeting land, land meeting mountains, you get the idea.  It doesn’t matter how slight the horizon is off, if it’s not straight it’s not acceptable. The amateur photographer may say, “but the subject is straight and I couldn’t get both the subject and the horizon straight.”  Then take the photo for your scrapbook, but don’t attempt to get the photograph accepted as a marketable image.  If you can’t relocate your position and perspective to get a straight horizon, don’t bother taking the photograph.

2013 nene image 2

Photo courtesy of Hudson Tavares – Just because the trees are straight, does not make this crooked horizon photograph marketable.

First let’s talk about how to ensure a straight horizon line while photographing, then I’ll give some links below on how to correct the crooked horizon in post-processing.

Tips for Shooting Straight Horizons:

Use a tripod with a built in level such as the Bogen tripods. I invested in a Bogen (they’re expensive, but timeless) about 30 years ago. It has both vertical and horizontal levels. My husband laughs at me, because I’ll have my tripod legs in such crooked and precarious positions in order to get those levels straight.  He’ll say; “you’ are no where near level” and of course I’ll respond with “the levels beg to differ with you”.

Many of the new digital SLR’s have a grid in the viewing area.  Line up the grid with your horizon.  Some cameras even come with a Virtual Horizon built in tool you can bring up.

You can also purchase, for less than $10, a flash-shoe mounted Spirit Level that will mount on the top of your camera and help you line up your horizon with much better accuracy.  Alternatively, some cameras have a built-in electronic spirit level that gives similar information in the viewfinder or on the top LCD.

Flash-shoe Spirit Levels

Post-Processing Horizon Correction

There are many ways to correct a slanted horizon line, choosing that which works best really depends on the type of image and severity of the issue.  If you are shooting in a large, hi-res format (therefore room for severe cropping), then manually tweaking the image until the horizon is straight and then cropping often works well.

Fixing Tilted Horizon Photoshop

Using the Lens Correction Tool in Photoshop

Straightening Photos in Lightroom

Straighten a Crooked Photo with The GIMP

Straighten the Horizon using Camera Raw

Let me also touch on Architectural perspective. Unless you have become an expert and have either a 4×5 or 8×10 view camera with an adjustable bellows or a a 35 mm format camera with a high-end tilt/shift (perspective control) lens, I would  not consider photographing buildings for use as images to sell.  This is a very specialized field and the pros use very expensive equipment that allow them to get the correct perspective by tilting the lens without causing distortions.

For those who missed it, here is the link to “A Matter of Perspective”

So, here’s hoping you now understand not only how to take a photograph with a straight horizon, but also how to correct the images you have. Till next week!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. March 11, 2013 9:01 am

    I completely agree on horizons, makes me crazy to see the ocean falling off the edge of a photo. But, I think if you take a closer look at Hudson Tavares photo, those trees are on a hillside they are not on a crooked horizon, they are just on a sloping hill or mountain side. 🙂

    • March 11, 2013 3:48 pm

      I see exactly what you see Denise, doesn’t matter. It gives the illusion of a crooked horizon and therefore would not be a photo that should be submitted to any place with submission guidelines … it won’t pass.

  2. March 11, 2013 12:51 pm

    High quality advice, Doreen! I don’t use photos as-is in my cards very often, and this reminds me why.

    • March 11, 2013 3:49 pm

      So true {LOL}! No matter how perfect a shot of mine is, there is always some post-processing to do 🙂

  3. March 12, 2013 4:36 am

    Thanks for straightening this out Doreen! ( I couldn’t resist the pun- hehe! ) But seriously, the same would hold true for anything that has the feeling of falling off the page. It makes one feel dizzy looking at it and it’s very unsettling.

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