Photo Challenge Entries

On That Crooked Horizon

I straightened this iPhone photo using Snapseed. It still looks kind of tilty….

Wednesday morning I read Cee’s Compose Yourself essay about horizontal lines and horizons and how they should be level and in the top or bottom third of a photo to be effective. Then, I went out and took photos with crooked horizons right smack dab in the middle of my photo and then wondered why the photos didn’t look quite right!

A fine example of what not to do!

My problem when taking this lake photo, other than my alarming deficit in short-term memory, was that I couldn’t decide whether the trees or the reflection were the main subject of the photo so I tried to not cut either out and ended up with the horizon right in the center of the photo.

Luckily, I took a few better shots that day, although not of that particular view of Blackmans Lake. Once I opened my photos in Picasa (or Snapseed for my iPhone photos), I realized they all looked a little off-kilter. I clicked on the “straighten” button for each of them and tried to line up both horizontal and vertical lines. (Straighten is a function in Picasa which I only discovered a couple of months ago, despite using it for the past seven years!) Some of them were a little off and others just looked off because there are lines running cattywampus all over the place.

The hedgerow of blackberries ran at a diagonal angle, making it look crooked.
The rows of Christmas trees are a lot closer on the left side, creating the illusion of going downhill.
Because the far shore of the lake is closer on one side, this one really doesn’t look straight!

I went through my archives and found that many of my favorite photos from this past spring and summer could benefit from a bit of straightening. Even with the grids on the display screen, getting a shot really straight is apparently difficult for me. And when there are multiple lines running through a photo, it becomes even more challenging.

Which line to use, the valley floor or the hill?
Once I got the roof top straightened, the tower looks crooked!
The stairs are straight but the hedge looks off to me.
The peninsula slopes one way and the shore on the other side the other way!

Sometimes when I get one line looking straight, something else looks crooked. That’s when I line up something vertical, like the tower in the photo above.

I’m still not sure any of these are really straight. I’m glad I finally discovered the straightening function but it’s something I could drive myself crazy with!


17 thoughts on “On That Crooked Horizon

  1. Gorgeous pictures. I feel like you are voicing some of my own thoughts. I sometimes have a really hard time deciding what to straighten since mother nature and many man made things are not in fact straight. One reason I like lightroom is that your original photo is always there and you can make virtual copies to play with and compare different adjustments.

    1. One of these days I will have to upgrade to Lightroom. It would be really helpful to see the original alongside newer versions. I think a couple of these I “straightened” probably looked more balanced before I tinkered with them!

  2. Some lovely shots.

    Stand back from your computer screen and half close your eyes. As a Painter often does in a large canvas, this view gives you a better perspective.

    Use both the horizon (or main horizontal line which stands out) AND the vertical (i.e. tree trunk and reflected tree trunk) in the lake photo. One may or may not be crooked, but sometimes you have to make both the vertical and horizontal lines slightly crooked to balance the overall composition.

    In the bottom photo you should be looking at the line that stands out the most i.e. the line where the foreground water meets the bottom of the foreground land (not the background peninsula).

    In the second last image……what stands out to me is the line of gold light hitting the first hedge row and the top line of the stone columns in the building. I think if you straighten those two i.e. drop the left hand side a little, your overall composition will look balanced. The horizontal line of the stone steps is not the most obvious feature (to me).

    The same with the 5th photo down. Look at BOTH the horizontal of the lake edge and the vertical line of the trees and reflected trees. If you get that right angle correct you will find the whole composition looks balanced.

    May I suggest that instead of choosing just one horizontal line, find the two most dominant horizontal lines to straighten in equal proportions.

    Sometimes it doesn’t matter whether it’s horizontal or vertical lines that need straightening, half closing your eyes will highlight what you should do.

    Of course, there are times when taking a VERY crooked image is part of the composition.

    In my iPhoto Library where I store my images on my Mac Pro, there are some very basic editing tools. They are enough for me. But the straightening slider is almost impossible to get right. I vaguely remember that Picasa (which I used to use 3-4 years ago) was much easier to use to straighten a horizon.

    There are some angles where it is just impossible to have a sense of correct horizontal lines in the frame unless you move to another position to take the shot. Sometimes it might meaning moving 2 foot to the left or right and re-looking through the viewfinder to appraise the composition.

    There are many landscapes and seascapes where 1/3 or 2/3 doesn’t work. You need the horizon to be about 4/10th or 6/10th of the way down the frame, depending on whether you want the foreground or background to be the dominant subject. There are also compositions where the horizontal and vertical rules don’t work. Then, you should imagine diagonal lines linking the top left hand corner to the bottom right hand corner and place the subject somewhere along that diagonal line (if you know what I mean).

    In the gold sunset image with the tree, it’s the line between the land and the golden sky that is the most dominant, so that tells you that is the line to get straight, not the very faint almost invisible valley floor. To be honest, one can barely see the valley floor line.

    Hope this helps.

    PS when I use my Canon DSLR and press the shutter button I always seems to wobble one way making many of my images slightly crooked. But with the Sony “mirrorless’ I have the grid lines, dividing the frame into thirds, permanently switched on so that I can see more clearly whether I’ve got my horizons straight. I don’t seem to tip the ‘mirrorless’ when I press the shutter button.

    I imagine you can switch on the gridlines on your Sony too. I think you’ve got the a5000 (whereas I’ve got the Sony a6000. I wonder if they have the same menus. If you don’t know where the gridline function is on your Sony, let me know and I’ll see if I can work it out for you. I do believe this will help you for landscapes where there is a dominant horizontal line to get straight in future.

    1. I do have the grid lines turned on my camera display but sometimes I forget to pay attention to them or, if there’s a lot of glare, I can’t see the screen well enough to use them. I know I always wobbled when using my old Canon PowerShot but I don’t think I do much with my Sony. (It is the a5000)

      Thank you for the suggestions! They will come in handy next time I get an image that looks really crooked. I don’t know why I didn’t think to stand back a bit and half close my eyes to look at the photos. I think having a large monitor sitting fairly close is really a disadvantage when it comes to photo editing, which is probably why my usual photo editing routine is to hit the auto contrast button and increase sharpening a little bit and that’s it. I guess that’s why I’ve stuck with the free Picasa program. I don’t really want to do more!

      1. I stick with the free basic editing tools too. I’m not interested in Photo Editing per se. You mention looking at the screen. I assume you mean the LCD screen on the back. Just looked up a review on the a5000 and I see there is no eyepiece viewfinder to look through. That’s a shame. It would erase your difficulty trying to see the screen on a sunny day. I took my old little Canon point & shoot out a week ago and I found it totally impossible to hold the tiny camera still OR see on the LCD screen.

  3. I’ve never tried to enhance any of the photos I take, so I’d be completely lost trying to use all these fixing tools! My horizons would probably be crooked just through my natural bumbling…

  4. Lines can drive people crazy. I think you did a wonderful job with straightening your horizons. You will only get perfectly straight horizons if you are are exactly at 90 degrees. And that is assuming what you are taking is totally straight. Diagonal lines or off angles you won’t have a straight horizon, but I can see where you noted that and made sense out of what looks straight. You get bonus points for that. The hedges do look like they are slanting in, but then they are leveled by human eyes and they probably do go in slightly. Plus the wide angle of your lens can add some distortion to. Wonderful entry Trish.

    1. Thank you, Cee! What I learned from this challenge are the two things you pointed out: you have to be at 90 degrees to get lines straight and you kind of just have to get things looking straight in general when there are diagonal lines and off angles. This was great practice!

  5. The park in your Blackman Lake photo is where I took my first swimming lessons. 🙂

    You mentioning the reflection putting the lake line in the middle brought to mind a photo I took last week at Magnuson where I ran into the same thing. I wanted both the full tree snag and its full reflection on the pond in the photo. But doing that meant the pond line was preceisely in the middle because there wasn’t enough room for me to back up and frame it differently with more space to work with. Sometimes that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. Like in writing, the “rules” are really just guidelines. It’s important to know them, but it’s okay to break them sometimes too!

    1. What a beautiful place to learn to swim! I had my first swimming lessons in a chlorine-filled indoor pool. :/

      How did your photo of the snag and reflection turn out? I like it when breaking the rules yields good results. I am disappointed that I just couldn’t capture how beautiful those trees looked reflecting off the water. I would go back and try again today but I suspect yesterday’s windstorm stripped the trees bare. It was pretty wild up here in the north end!

      1. It turned out okay. I’ll be posting it in the photo gallery for the wetlands preview for Magnuson Park.

        I know what you mean about the leaves! It was really stormy on Tuesday. I was waiting for the sunshine tomorrow and Saturday to get back out and finish photos for two different previews, but I’m afraid the trees won’t be pretty like they were two weeks ago.

        1. I went to the library in Snohomish today and I was amazed by how many leaves are still hanging on, both in town and through Willis Tucker Park. I hope you find the same thing at Magnuson. I look forward to seeing your photos, with or without leaves!

          1. I went out both Friday and Saturday and both days were beautiful, and still quite a few leaves left. Looks like Thanksgiving day should be beautiful also!

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