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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)
Sand Key - Clearwater, FL

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)
straighten2

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.

straighten3

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.

What Else?
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!

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