Water & Sky Photography: Fixing the Horizon in “Post”

This is a pretty basic point, really – but I see the same mistakes made over and over by hobbyist photographers.  In my experience, virtually every photo you take that has a prominent horizon in it will require some correction in “post.”  At a minimum, you will need to straighten the horizon, because it’s hard to hold the camera perfectly straight every time.  Take this one for example:

If you’re not paying attention, it can sometimes be easy to miss the fact that the horizon is slightly tilted.  You may just have the sense that something is “off” but aren’t sure what.  Some programs will only let you rotate in increments of 90 degrees, but hopefully you have one that will let you nudge a photo slightly clockwise or counterclockwise.  Recognize you will lose some of the edge areas in the process.  I use Photoshop Elements, which is usually available for under $100 and does almost all the editing a home user would need.  You can also set up a free account on photoshop.com and use many of the same tools for free on with their online editing options.  The cool thing about photoshop is that a faint white grid pops up when you rotate, allowing you to get the horizon just right.

So now you’ve got a straight horizon – how can we make this even better?  Well, conventional wisdom says that the “rule of thirds” usually applies on horizon shots.  In other words, you want the horizon to cut across the shot at either the 1/3 or the 2/3 line.  Depending on which part of the photo is more interesting.  Additionally, if there is something else in the photo, you could place that at the 1/3 or 2/3 point on the horizontal axis.

In the photo above, the reflections on the river are more interesting than the sky, so according to conventional wisdom, you’d want to have the photo be 2/3 water, 1/3 sky, like this:

Disagree?  In this case, me too.  Sometimes you have to cast conventional wisdom aside and just go with your gut.  In this case, my gut tells me there should be more sky than water, like this:

Agree/disagree?  I’m always happy to hear your thoughts.

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