Don’t Cut the Horizon in Two

The first time I attempted to take pictures professionally was when I was ten years old.  It was on a trip to Florida with some friends of the family.  I fell in love with Florida’s lush vegetation and spacious ocean views.  I was convinced that I could capture everything on film just the way I saw it.  Imagine my dismay when I got my film back and it looked nothing like what I had seen!  I thought I could point the camera at a scene and the shot would be exactly rendered the way I had seen it.

The biggest mistake I’ve seen casual photographers make is cutting the horizon in two.  I think it’s because it seems like a logical thing to get an even amount of foreground and background.  But all this will do is make your photo look static.  Although a photograph is an instant in space and time, it needs to look like there is a certain amount of movement going on in the picture.

That is also why if you place an object dead center in a picture it also looks as if there is no movement going on.  Another common mistake.

An object needs space to breath.

Imagine the sailboat in this picture sliding along the edge of the horizon until it had got to the center of the photograph.  And then I had taken the picture.  Can you imagine it?  It wouldn’t look very good would it?  It would look stuck.  It would look static.

What I have been talking about is commonly referred to as the rule of thirds in photography.  If you break objects up into thirds in your photographs they will appear visually interesting and filled with life.  Kai Virihaur has a nice description on his blog, a1 Photo Tips, if you would care to learn more about this topic.

In this picture I shot Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains off center so the horizon wouldn’t be split in two.  That is approximately one third of the picture. The other two thirds of the picture is interesting layers of clouds.

After awhile these kind of composition techniques will come second nature to you and you will instantly know how to compose and frame a picture before you shoot it.  Just remember you can’t swing your camera at a scene and snap! – expect everything to appear as you see it.

Give a little thought to your composition, and you will be extremely pleased with the results.

Note:  Because I have some pressing projects I need to attend to, I will not be able to update my blog after today until next week.  Thanks for stopping by everyone and I will speak with you soon!

Photocredit: © Ellen Wilson

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20 thoughts on “Don’t Cut the Horizon in Two”

  1. Perfectly articulated. I knew exactly what you meant. Photography is one of those things that I would love to delve into at some point, but I know myself well enough to know that I won’t be comfortable in the middle ground. I’m a point and click man now, and if I start trying to learn something new, I won’t be happy until I can do it magically. Your shot is beautiful. If I had taken the picture, you would have been able to fold it in half and have two equal sides of boat on two sides of the line.

    Writer Dad’s last blog post..The Great Equalizer

  2. Interesting! I just snap photos. I never really think about composition. But my blog is making me take more interest than ever in photography. I will keep these tips in mind.

    Vered’s last blog post..I Am Watching You

  3. That is a very good tip – not cutting the horizon in half. I knew the rule of thirds, and use it a lot. I also make sure not to place an object dead centre because, well, you can just see that it’s wrong.

    If I had to pick one tip for beginning photographers, I’d tell them to pay attention to the background and avoid clutter. Your photograph is particularly beautiful because it is so clean. I love it!

    Jay’s last blog post..Conversations with a husband – No. 10

  4. Ellen,

    That is interesting and as an amateur in every sense of the word with a camera, I did not know that. Well, here’s to better pictures!

    And that is a really nice picture you shot.


    Brett Legree’s last blog fridays – the worst sickness.

  5. I remember learning something similar to this in art class, although it was called using white space rather than breaking a scene into thirds. The concept is basically the same: offset the subject! Thanks for the tip (I love when you write posts like this!).

    Melissa Donovan’s last blog post..A Story for a Song

  6. Those are great words of wisdom Ellen! I LOVE taking pictures, we took 600 on our trip to Colorado, I wish I had known these tips then!

    Great picture too!

    Jenny’s last blog post..I Did It!

  7. I just came over from Barbara’s site. Interesting blog you have here. I like the idea of photography and words. Love some of the posts that you made here. I’ve just subscribed to your feeds!

    Thanks for sharing,

    Evelyn Lim’s last blog post..7 Wise Confucius Sayings

  8. Hi Ellen,

    What a great photography tip. In the past I have cut the horizon in two, and then wondered why the photo didn’t look all that great. I’ll definitely remember to use this hint in the future.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Barbara Swafford’s last blog post..NBOTW Authors – Where Are You Now

  9. Ellen, I had no idea! Of course I also don’t own a camera but when I get one now I know what to do. This makes perfect sense to me. I look forward to going from “girl without camera” to casual photographer trained by Ellen. 🙂

  10. I had the good fortune to have my dad teach me how to properly frame a picture when I was about 10 years old. Now I love playing with placement. And you are absolutely right, it makes a world of difference.

    See you when you get back!

    Urban Panther’s last blog post..Don’t tell me I can’t

  11. Ellen,

    I am reminded to put the pictures of life I see in good porportion to other factors of life. It seems to me everything looks better with the right composition, and when it comes to how we see life, we have a choice to make some things bigger and some minute.

    Hope you are having a great week and you meet your timelines for those projects you mentioned.

    Harmony’s last blog post..The Eclipse

  12. Hi all. I could have sworn I left a comment for the first three commentors. Hmmm. Anyway, I’ve been off the chart busy. You all know how it goes.

    Writer Dad – That cracks me up! Kind of like the rorschach ink blot test of photography.

    Vered – More tips to come. Looking forward to more of your photos.

    Marelisa – Hello, I’ve seen you around and I have been meaning to stop by your blog! I’ll bring some cookies. Glad you like the tip.

    Jay – Thanks! Yes, the cluttered background is also a good rule. The only time it really works is with patterns.

    Jaden – I can’t wait to read your book! Will it be on your blog or can we get it in the bookstore?

    Brett – Yes, here’s to better pictures! Thanks for the compliment.

    Melissa – Yeah, I know you like my practical versus mystic posts. I try to mix them up.

    Jenny – I do recall one of your photos on your blog. I remember it was a highway scene. Very nice. Six hundred pictures is a lot of rolls of film! It does add up quickly though.

    Evelyn – Hello, and I’m glad you like my blog. I will visit you too!

    Barbara – I’m glad to share the tip. I’ve done that in the past too, and I couldn’t figure out why it didn’t work until much later.

    Karen – Hey, now if only I can get you to take your thumb off the lens…

    Friar – I suppose a good photo would be a prime motivator for painting a good picture.

    Urban Panther – You were just born into all the luck! And now you have a husband who knows all the wine. You’ll have to post some of those food shots and make us hungry. And thirsty.

    Harmony – That is excellent advice. Yes, we can choose what to diminish and what to enlarge. Or what to focus on.

  13. Brett,

    I would like to see your picture. I’m sure it will be fine. I’m glad I can help out with the tips!

  14. I am such a terrible photographer. Your tips will definitely help me improve. 🙂

    I love the boat. I wonder what it would mean if you had shot the boat after it was two thirds of the way across the screen?

    Always something to learn here…

    Good luck with your projects. I am having a root canal on Friday, so I really should be working trying to get things done a day ahead, but blogsurfing is so much more fun. Sigh…

    Amy’s last blog post..Freelance Writing Success: Your Way or Mine?

  15. Amy,

    Nah. Your pictures on your blog have been nice. I remember the wolf oil spot and the bait machine.

    You always want to give your subject (usually) more space in front rather than more space in back. But if you look at the next entry with the guy in the bike you see I just contradicted myself. The reason this picture works is because of the lights and the people behind him. It appears balanced. I actually tried to give him more room in front, but I was panning him using continuous shooting mode and this is the picture I got. Here’s the secret: a lot of photography is know how, but probably 90% of it is luck with photojournalism. Okay, now I feel myself entering a tangent so I’ll stop.

    A root canal sounds crappy. I haven’t had one so I don’t know what the pain will be like. Good luck. They probably will give you some good drugs, but I don’t know how you feel about that!

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