Level/Un-level Horizons

Discussion in 'Australia Photography' started by Doug Jewell, Jul 31, 2007.

  1. Doug Jewell

    Doug Jewell Guest

    My comments are based around this photo:
    It's no award winner, but it makes a good example for this discussion. I'll
    start by explaining the story behind getting this. I had just got my new
    GX10 and wanted to experiment. In the wee hours of the morning I was having
    trouble getting back to sleep so decided I'd head out to do some night
    photography. There was no moon so I thought I'd give the star trails a try -
    headed to the southern edge of town so I'd have less streetlights between me
    and the southern sky. Found a quiet spot that seemed to be on a bit of a
    hill with a good view toward the southern sky and importantly, no nearby
    streetlights. In the dark I couldn't properly make out the horizon, so I
    set the camera up, levelled the tripod and started it on a 20 minute bulb
    Once the shot came out, I saw the horrendously crooked horizon and figured I
    didn't have the tripod perfectly level, or maybe i'd moved it after I'd
    levelled it or some such thing (remember this was 5am in the morning, I'm
    not likely to be thinking straight).
    Anyway, today I went back to the spot in the daylight, and to my suprise,
    the "horizon" there is actually angled as it is in the photograph - it is
    actually a long, low, sloping hill.
    Now, given that as a general rule, horizons should be level in photographs,
    what do you do when the horizon isn't level? Do you tilt the camera so that
    the horizon becomes level in the viewfinder, potentially disrupting vertical
    lines? or do you keep the camera horizontal and live with the off-level
    horizon? or do you change depending on what you are doing, and if so what
    guidelines would lean you to one or the other?
    Personally, I think in the case of the original photo I started with, that
    it would work better if the camera was tilted to give a straight horizon
    (not that it is a good photo anyway). There are no strong verticals, so the
    horizon is necessary to orient the viewer. If there was a strong vertical
    (eg the side of a building) then I think framing would be best with the
    vertical kept vertical, and leave the horizon at an angle.
    Doug Jewell, Jul 31, 2007
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  2. 5am usually is in the morning. ;-)
    Well, surely it is all about the final image. I now it sounds trite but surely
    if the view does not make a nice image because the horizon is not level, or
    any other reason, then you simply wouldn't take a picture of it?
    If the image works when there are other elements giving the correct references
    - tall buildings in the foreground against sloping foothills behind - then
    Richard Polhill, Jul 31, 2007
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  3. Doug Jewell

    Mick Brown Guest

    If I were to look at the image without your post, I would not have thought
    it was a crooked horizon, it does look like a hill to me.

    Mick Brown
    Mick Brown, Jul 31, 2007
  4. Doug Jewell

    Poxy Guest

    Actually, there are strong verticals in your pic - the trees. Even on the
    steepest of slopes, they grow vertically. Tilt the frame to get the
    "horizon" level and you'd have a bunch of trees leaning over.

    On another note, people who obsess about level horizons are, more often than
    not, those who can't see the wood for the trees. Technical details like
    level horizons, blown highlights or crushed shadows (which I see far fewer
    comments about, but are just as significant - technically) are just that -
    technical. If you're taking forensic photographs, such considerations are
    relevant, but if your aim is to capture compelling images, follow your
    instinct and emotions. You'll get better pictures.
    Poxy, Jul 31, 2007
  5. Doug Jewell

    Pudentame Guest

    Doug Jewell wrote:

    Cut to the chase - if the horizon itself is level, it should be level in
    the photograph. If it's not ... then not.

    BTW, if you put paragraph breaks in there it'd be easier to read.
    Pudentame, Jul 31, 2007
  6. Doug Jewell

    Pete D Guest

    Mmmm, appears to be five, not enough for you?
    Pete D, Jul 31, 2007
  7. At certain window widths, the paragraphing is hidden. There is something
    off in the line wrapping, or perhaps the lack of it.

    As to the original point, I'd much prefer that picture be cropped to
    straighten the horizon; in this case virtually nothing is lost that I
    can see in the image posted.
    John McWilliams, Jul 31, 2007
  8. Doug Jewell

    Paul Furman Guest

    Sometimes I'll intuitively, unknowingly, frame a crooked horizon & it
    works. More often, I just wasn't paying attention & have to fix it in
    photoshop. But yeah, look at the bright side, it proves I wasn't
    obsessing over technicalities, just absorbed in the beauty of the image
    and that is a good thing. Just a minor hit on quality & size when
    cropping to fix it.
    Paul Furman, Aug 1, 2007
  9. I found my pictures tilting more and more with time.
    The fix was putting gridded screens in all the cameras
    - problem gone.
    Nicholas O. Lindan, Aug 1, 2007
  10. Doug Jewell

    Mick Brown Guest

    I had the same problem, I fixed it by stopping drinking while shooting.

    Mick Brown
    Mick Brown, Aug 1, 2007
  11. Several 35mm stereo cameras had levels built in. At one time you
    could buy one that fit in the accessory shoe of your camera.

    Geoffrey S. Mendelson, Aug 1, 2007
  12. Bit extreme, don't you think?
    Nicholas O. Lindan, Aug 1, 2007
  13. Doug Jewell

    Rob Guest

    I think all the panoramic cameras have then built in,
    Rob, Aug 1, 2007
  14. Doug Jewell

    Jim Guest

    I fix all my photos which don't have a level horizon in Photoshop. No
    matter how hard I try, the camera refuses to enable an automatic
    horizon adjustment feature. If the horizon is not level, nothing else
    Jim, Aug 2, 2007
  15. Doug Jewell

    JD Guest

    You can still buy hot shoe levels.

    Search for hot shoe level on ebay and get a bunch of hits.

    I'd recommend a dual axis bubble type such as this bogen model at B&H:


    I'd search for clones of that on ebay for a much better price than what
    B&H is selling it for.

    You want one that has the dual mount so that if you are shooting
    downward (ie copy work) the level can be mounted to accomodate that

    I've tried the bullseye type, didn't work well for me.

    And if it's not obvious, since the level can't be seen while looking
    through the viewfinder, you'll be working off a tripod. If you are
    needing/wanting to work w/o a tripod, a focus screen that has a grid is
    the ticket. Or if you're like me, use both.

    JD, Aug 2, 2007
  16. Doug Jewell

    Rob Guest

    Why this is a precision piece of equipment and worth the money.

    Anyway here in Australia it comes under HAMA brand and is distributed by
    Rob, Aug 2, 2007
  17. Doug Jewell

    Scott W Guest

    Very, if that was the only way to get level horizons I would simply have
    to give up on level horizons.

    Scott W, Aug 2, 2007
  18. My Bogen 3265 grip action ball head has a bubble level built in....It seems
    to work fine....If I level it with the camera attached, the horizon is
    horizontal and goes through the center of the frame.....
    William Graham, Aug 2, 2007
  19. Doug Jewell

    Mick Brown Guest

    Yeah you're right, screw the horizons, gimme a Beam!!

    Mick B
    Mick Brown, Aug 2, 2007
  20. Doug Jewell

    Pudentame Guest

    Pudentame, Aug 2, 2007
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