Exercise 7. – Positioning the horizon

The question is where to place the horizon and why.

The horizon as an element of the composition can change the story of the photograph just like any other object, therefore it can make or break the image. Shifting the horizon by tilting the camera up or down can alter the entire balance of the scene. Other elements can help to decide where to place the horizon, if it is something interesting in the foreground, the horizon will be positioned higher, if there is something captivating about the sky (background), the horizon will inevitably be placed lower.

7. Positioning the horizon 1.

1. High horizon line

7. Positioning the horizon 2.

2. Centre placed horizon

7. Positioning the horizon 3.

3. Low horizon line

I took these photos on a holiday in Portugal, it doesn’t look particularly impressive, but the fact is that these are the famous cliffs at Cape St. Vincent, the historical End of the world. I prefer the first photo with a high horizon line showing the most of the rocks as that’s the purpose of the photograph. The midday clear sky only appears as a block of colour which overpowers the other two pictures, the centre placed horizon creates a very static composition, definitely boring and unbalanced arrangements.


High horizon line positioned on the upper third of the picture using Rule of thirds

4. High horizon line positioned on the upper third of the picture using Rule of thirds

Centre placed horizon

5. Centre placed horizon

7. Positioning the horizon 6.

6. Low horizon line positioned on the lower third of the picture using Rule of thirds

The next morning I took few more photos on the beach near our hotel. Starting with the fourth picture, the rocks on the beach give enough interest to tilt the camera down so as the photographer in the far distance, the clear morning sky doesn’t add much to the composition, there are only few clouds, therefore I placed the horizon line high considering the Rule of thirds to create a balanced arrangement.

I wanted to see dramatic lights so I went back in the late afternoon. As the sunset progressed, gorgeous colours appeared and created this astonishing scenery. This time I used a tripod to be able to use slower shutter speed to smooth out the water and reduce distraction in the image. On the fifth image I captured a single rock as a foreground element but I also wanted to keep large part of the colourful sky so I decided to place the horizon right in the centre. Usually this creates a static composition, however in this case, diagonal lines are produced by the colours, shadows and the white line possibly created by an airplane, overall it seems dynamic. Unfortunately the rock in the foreground fades into the shadows, I couldn’t increase the exposure any more because I would have lost the beautiful tones of the sky, I should have moved to the left a bit more to get some light from the sun or perhaps I should have considered using a flash. Anyway I will try both next time.

I quickly composed the last photo before it became completely dark, the foreground is nearly black, the attention is on the upper two thirds of the picture, the first star also appears more brighter than on the fifth picture giving more interest to the sky, placing the horizon on the lower third seemed appropriate.

I think the last 3 photos worked better than the first 3, perhaps having lots of different elements in the frame is better than only one or two, considering the Rule of thirds when composing the shot also helped to achieve a better proportioned picture in the last three cases, and of course, the light is much more interesting at sunrise or sunset than under the harsh midday sun. However the very first image could have been a good one by capturing more of the cliffs with an extreme wide angle lens or maybe from a distant point of view, but still keeping the horizon very high. I think I could have achieved tonal balance between cool and warm tones. I will definitely be experimenting with this in the future.

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