Lately, I’ve seen a few questions about horizon lines and getting them straight. It seems like a no-brainer right? Straighten your photo – whether it’s in camera or in Lightroom/Photoshop later. But you’ve probably seen lots of photos with horizon lines that aren’t straight. In my experience, it can work but not with a landscape or outdoor photo – that is, unless there’s a person in your photo. I shoot tilted photos of with people all the time and it works, but when it comes to landscape and outdoor, for the most part, your horizons need to be straight.
Straightening Based on Horizon Lines
This is the easiest. If there’s a horizon line then you can easily grab the straighten tool in Lightroom (or Photoshop) and drag it along the line. Heck, in Lightroom if you go to the Lens Correction panel, under the Basic tab and just choose Auto under Upright, Lightroom will usually do a great job of straightening for you automatically. In Camera Raw, you can even double-click the straighten tool in the top toolbar and ACR will auto-straighten the photo as well. But this all hinges on there being a pretty clear horizon line in the photo like I have here.
(Sand Key – Clearwater, FL: Taken with Canon 5D Mark III and 16-35mm lens)
What About If There Isn’t A Clearly Defined Horizon Line?
That gets a little tricky. In the photo you see below, you can’t see the horizon. So there’s nothing to straighten the photo from. Now, if you used a bubble level of some sort on your tripod/ballhead while taking the photo, then you’d know the camera was level. But the problem is that A) maybe you didn’t level the camera and, B) even if you did, sometimes level doesn’t always look good.
(Trillium Lake, OR: Taken with D800 and 16-35mm lens)
If that’s the case, then I’ll usually look for something else that should be level. For example, the shoreline, even though it’s winding away from us, looks odd if it’s crooked. So I’d just use the same straighten tool on that. Also, if you have something vertical in the photo (like a tree) you can always drag the straighten tool vertically and Lightroom/Photoshop will straighten it as well.
I’m also not opposed to using the Puppet Warp tool in Photoshop to push/pull/bend things around to make them look more pleasing. It’s a last resort, but I’ve definitely used it before when I just couldn’t get things to look right.
There’s other types of photography that are supposed to have straight lines. With ariel photography you’re supposed to straighten the horizon as well as architectural photography (in which case, all lines are supposed to be straight). For me personally, I’m not an architectural photographer and I don’t show my work to clients of the architectural nature, so I don’t go crazy straightening everything because most other people (aside from architectural photographers) don’t really care 🙂
Thanks for stopping by. Have a good one!
All though I am not supposed to reply to any Kelby Media member posts anymore, because apparently I am “too intense”….(head smack), I was actually agreeing with you on that show, so no need to take shots at me anymore! I was literally typing the same thing you said, and was trying to explain that ONLY if working for an architect or interior designer one cannot submit skewed photos. (Along with other rules that don’t apply to travel photography).
I am not sure if you saw those photos I posted or not, but recently the company that photographs my kids school “spring” photos not only they chose completely inappropriate backgrounds for ‘spring”, but the horizon line was tilted and cutting through their waist lines, and the background image they chose was so sharp it completely ruined their portraits. The scenarios where a tilted horizon line works in a portrait are rare, and have a different theme generally. I would be glad to lend you these two photos for another article on this issue, since you have an audience, so you can exemplify what it means to do that with school, photos. (Considering how popular school photos are) If you have examples of photos of people with skewed horizon lines, then I think it would be a really good idea to put them together with mine so that people can visually see why it is not a good idea, and when it is a good idea. (Hope this “idea” is not too intense”!)
Hey Alexandra – I’m not sure what you’re referring to on a few levels. For starters, about “agreeing” with me or about taking “shots” at you. I didn’t see any comments from you concerning this topic and I wrote about it because of a recent photo content I judged and horizon problems I saw. So if you think it was written in response to something you said, it wasn’t – as I actually don’t even know what you said.
I’m also not sure what you’re talking about when you say you’re “not supposed to reply”.
“I don’t go crazy straightening everything because most other people (aside”
from architectural photographers) don’t really care”
Hi Matt, TG Ep. 136 with Serge Ramelli when the chat was broken and we we were commenting through Twitter; that was what I was referring to. That was when we had that conversation about “straight lines”.
It looked like you were taking a shot at me for having that conversation then; except that I never disagreed with you on that episode.
Back to that horizon line: I think after my last experience with having a straight horizon line skewed in a forma portrait, you may want to expand this even more and show some really bad examples, so folks understand how bad it looks in “formal” portraiture.
I Msg’d on FB for the rest…Not putting that here.
On the “other” FB mailbox.
Hey Matt, you missed one other “helper” that is very obvious in your second example image. The water IS level (even if the shore isn’t), so any items in the image which are reflected in the water should line up vertically. In your image, that means that the mountain peak should appear directly above the reflection of the same peak.
Yes, but the shoreline is much more important in that example. If it’s crooked, the photo is going to look odd. People will forgive the reflections because they’re not going to look as closely as they would a slanted horizon/shoreline.
Agreed. Just saying that using the reflections can be another tool in our toolbox when we don’t have any other reference.
It’s definitely another tool. You do have to be careful if you have used a wide angle lens and the reflection you are using is not in the middle of your shot
You’re making a lot of sense Neil. Reflections are indeed a very good helper for straightening – a line drawn between the same points real reflection will be vertical.
Another trick I am using, I try to find a vertical line as close to the center of the image as possible and I use that for straightening. Doing that I avoid getting tricked by any lens distortion which will make any lines closer to the edge to appear (works very well with buildings).
Just my 2 cents.