How many times have you been so caught-up in the moment you just snap away not really paying attention to the finer details, like making sure your horizon is straight? I’ll admit, I still do it on occasion although I now take the time to make sure it’s fixed in post production.
The importance of straight lines
Human beings love straight lines. We love things are are level instead of being at add odd angles. If things look crooked, it will trick our subconscious into thinking that things are off balance, and it will throw off our perception. And let’s face it, it’s impossible to have a crooked horizon occurring in nature when it’s always 100% straight.
I remember the first time someone said to me “hey this is a cool pic but umm your horizon is totally crooked and it’s ruining the shot”. My first reaction was to get mad. How dare someone tell me something was ruining my shot? I loved the shot, I took the shot. So I took a look at the shot again.. and I’ll be dammed the horizon was totally crooked and now it stood out.
For those of us that have never been trained in photography, or those that don’t shoot on a regular basis, we generally wouldn’t notice that it’s crooked. I hadn’t noticed before, and my friends and family never notice it in their shots (until I point it out … sorry guys). But the reality is, although our earth is not flat ( sorry to burst your bubble), the horizon is always straight when you look at it. And so, unless you are drunk, or are going for some completely whacky artsy over the top shot, your horizon should always be straight.
I don’t have the horizon in my shot, what are you talking about?
Not all of the shots you will take in your life will be outside..duh! Heaps of them will probably be inside taken in various locations. There is a good chance those places will have floors and walls, or other types of lines in your shot, these lines should also be straight. When lines are not straight, it will throw off the perception of the photo. It will trick your mind into thinking that things are leaning one way or another, even if they aren’t.
Sometimes you will take a shot of trees or mountains, or other nature-y stuff that doesn’t really have any lines or horizons. This can be tricky. Just think about it for a second and decide what it would be like if it was naturally occurring. And when in doubt, make it up.
Things to watch for
Here are some examples of things to watch for when shooting different subjects. I have included a before and after so you can see the difference it makes. Although some are subtle, others are very noticeable and overall make for a better photo. This important step will help boost your shot from “mediocre” to “amazing”.
I have drawn a red line on the before so you can see the exact location I will be editing for. This will also help give you an idea of where you should be concentrating on while taking a photo.
Before: This sunset picture has an extremely crooked horizon where the land meets the ocean
After: fixed the horizon in the background so horizon is straight and the water doesn’t look like it’s drunk.
Before: see that line beside the leaf? Our eye is automatically drawn to that spot so having a nice straight line will help balance out the picture and give it semetry.
After: slight tweak to the shot in post production will balance out the image.
Before: look at the horizon and trees in the background. Even though the subject looks straight, the trees are all crooked, and the lake looks like it’s drunk.
After: fixed the horizon in the background so the water level is now straight, and so are the trees.
Before: This shot was taken from an odd angle while looking through a sliding glass door. I loved the composition of the shot, but the crooked wooden partition drove me crazy
After: by cropping the image to make sure the wood partition was straight, your eye is now drawn to the bride instead of the crooked photo. I also removed the dark part from the roof line as there was no way to make it straight in the photo.
Before: the walls weren’t straight and it gave almost a warped affect to the shot
After: a simple adjustment using the “lens correction” in Lightroom made the walls and all other lines straight.
How to correct your shots
There are several methods to correct a photo like this, but the first step is admitting you have a problem. haha, just kidding. But seriously, the easiest way to deal with this is not to do it!
Most cameras and phones now come with a grid overlay, turn on this feature to make sure your lines are straight. This is a great feature that will help you balance your shots and make things are straight.
If you shoot with a tripod that has a level on it, make sure you use it. Better yet, some cameras have a built-in level, I have on one my 6D and use it every time!
If you happen to shoot a crooked shot and need to fix it:
Lightroom – has a feature located in their crop section called angle. Simply drag the angle along the horizon and it will straighten and crop for you
Photoshop- I am sure there are other faster better methods to do this, but I usually draw a straight line with the line tool, and then I use the transform tool to move the horizon or line to be straight. I then go ahead and crop it.
iPhone – iPhones have evolved a lot when it comes to editing photos, and can pump out some pretty stellar shots. Go to the picture, hit the edit button and then choose the icon that looks like a little square with arrows around it. By moving this around it will pull up a grid and help straighten your photo for you.
Lastly, slow down for a minute and compose your shot. Take the time to look at the things around it and make sure everything is in balance and is straight. This will not only help the composition of your shot, you won’t have to correct it in post production.