Photography Tip - turn on and use the view finder's grid display on your DSLR

When people ask me for feedback on their photographs, one of the most common mistakes I see is a horizon that is not level.  This is a very simple thing to do and without it, the photograph is ruined.  To help get horizon's level, use the grid display in your DSLR's viewfinder.  Not every DSLR has this option, and not every DSLR that does has it on be default.  So look in your menus (for Nikon cameras check the Custom Settings Menu) to see if you can turn on something usually called "grid display."  Not only will it lay a grid over what you see so you can get horizons level, it also shows the framing for the rule of thirds.  

For the sunset portrait above, I placed the lower third grid line right on the horizon itself, insuring a level horizon.  Also note on the upper third lines interset right at the main focus point of the subjects (their heads).  This is a composition style you will see commonly in many of my photographs, even ones without people in them.  

So be sure and turn on your DSLR's grid lines in the viewfinder and get every horizon level with easy!

Photography Tip - watch out for horizon intruders

When the horizon is contained in the composition of your photograph, a lot of attention has to be paid to it.  The first thing is to make sure it is straight.  Then where it is positioned in the vertical part of the frame is another thing to be mindful of (read about that photo tip here).  Add to your horizon checklist the search for intruders at the edges of the frame.  In the above photograph, only part of the condos on the left are shown.  This makes them intruders to me.  Either have the condos completely in the frame, or not at all.  Now, on the right of the horizon are some trees.  These are part of the natural landscape and I do not view them as intruders.  The trees do not breakup the natural flow of the horizon when looking at the photograph, but the condos at the edge do.  Buildings are what you need to look out most for at the edges of the horizon.  Overall, always pay close attention to the horizon when composing a photograph for the best results.

Where to put the horizon in landscape photographs

When composing a photograph, especially a landscape shot, everything needs to be considered, and that includes where to put the horizon.  By where the horizon is placed in the frame determines much of the overall impression of the photo.  One simple way to help with horizon placement is to follow the rule of thirds, by that I mean placing the horizon in the lower or upper third of the frame often results in an appealing shot.  

The horizon dead smack in the middle, not a very exciting shot.Without any formal photography training, most of the time picking up a camera and making a landscape shot of sky and water would result in the above image with the horizon dead centered.  Unless there is some kind of cool reflection or vertical symmetry, this results in a boring shot.  The photographer has not chosen which to feature more of in the frame, the sky or the water?

Placing the horizon in the upper third showcases the foreground.In the above shot the horizon is placed in the upper third of the frame, showing that the photographer chose to feature the water.  Putting the horizon in the upper third highlights the foreground.  So you have to ask yourself, is the foreground nicer than the background?  If so, compose with the horizon in the upper third.  However, for most water shots here in Florida, including the one above, the water is not as beautiful as the sky so the shot can end up looking like a lot of brown with a peak of blue at the top.

Putting the horizon in the lower third often results in the best Florida landscape compositionFinally the horizon is placed in the lower third showing more of the beautiful afternoon sky and less of the nondescript water.  This framing showcases the best feature of the shot, the sky, and just enough water to let the viewer know it is a waterfront shot.

So when framing your shot, decide what you want to feature, and then place the horizon accordingly.