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When to Break the Rules?

When to Break the Rules?

Where to put the horizon in a landscape photo:

Imagine being outdoors in a wide open landscape with beautiful scenery surrounding you on all sides.  You’ve drunk in the stunning view, taken deep breaths of fresh air, and you’re feeling better already.  Now, needless to say, you’re taking your camera out and beginning to compose a photograph.

There are always many different compositional decisions to make at this stage, and one of the most important ones will be where to place the horizon in your photograph.  It’s often said that a horizon line that is placed half way up the frame will lead to a visually static image, and as a general rule this is true.


mountain reflected in lake
However, I think that there is one important exception to this rule, and that is when there is water in the landscape and you’re lucky enough to find a perfect reflection.  In this case it feels natural to complement the symmetry of the reflection by using a symmetrical composition.

When I was photographing this mountain reflected in a lake, I felt it would have been visually uncomfortable to have the dividing line between the mountain and its reflection one third or two thirds of the way up the frame; putting it half way up the frame gave a more balanced feel to the composition.

In most other landscape situations though, it will usually be more interesting to place the horizon line off-centre – maybe one thirds or two thirds of the way up the frame, or even just a sliver from the top or bottom of the frame for a more radical composition.  The decision will depend on the amount of interesting detail in both the landscape and the sky.

house and stormy sky
If the sky is plain blue with no cloud interest, or just overcast, then it doesn’t really contain any visual “information”, and including a lot of it won’t add anything to the impact of your photo; but if there are fabulous cloud formations then you may want to devote most of the image area to the sky.

When I photographed this scene in Tuscany, I felt that the towering clouds gave drama and impact to the landscape, so I decided to put the horizon line very low in the frame and include a lot of the sky in the photograph.

If you love landscapes why not join me on my Landscape Photography Course at MyPhotoSchool or take look at more of my work on Pinterest

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