When to Break the Rules?

By Geoff Harris

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

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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