Exercise – Positioning The Horizon

Last weekend my wife and I spent the weekend in the Lake District. Early on Sunday morning, I went to take photographs along the shores of Ullswater. Conditions were perfect with blue skies, white clouds and spectacular autumn colours. As I looked down the lake from Pooley Bridge, I remembered that one of my forthcoming exercises was to do with positioning the horizon. As I’ve done previously on the course (and subsequently regretted), I shot the pictures that my shaky memory told me were required to explore the subject. In this case, positioning the horizon high, low, centrally and a couple in between.

Since then, I’ve had the bright idea to save the course material onto an old Kindle (the original, all grey version) and to keep that in my camera bag so that I can refer to the notes BEFORE I take the pictures, and maybe get closer to the point of the exercises.

The pictures I took feature an horizon that isn’t flat or straight. They also have the boat and its pier to attract the eye and take our attention away from the rest of the frame, lessening the importance of the horizon’s position. Oh well…

Central Horizon
Central Horizon

The first picture, with the horizon dividing the frame in half makes for a pretty dull composition. The sky has a few wispy, white clouds to lure the eye, but the flat, calm water doesn’t delay us in the lower half of the frame.

2/3 Up
2/3 Up

By moving the horizon the a position 2/3rds of the the way up the frame, we open up the foreground, drawing attention to the lake and making the mountains feel more distant. It has become a picture of the water and not just the general view.

High Horizon
High Horizon

Taking this one stage further means placing the horizon at the top of the frame, leaving only the smallest amount of the sky visible. This positioning, like the guy walking out of the frame in a previous exercise, becomes eccentric and needs some justification. For example, this version would only really make sense if it accompanied a story about The Beast of Ullswater…

1/3 Up Horizon
1/3 Up Horizon

Relieving the claustrophobia caused by the previous view, placing the horizon 1/3 up from the bottom of the frame feels much more natural. Because I have a range of hills at the end of my lake, I almost have 2 horizon lines to consider (one being where sky meets land and the other where water meets land) and so applying Fibonacci’s division, geometrical division or even the rule of thirds becomes tricky. Apply it to the horizon and that dark band of the hills sits too low in the frame. Either way, this positioning gives a stability to the image. To me it feels like the version that most closely matches how I see the world and in this case at least, is the most satisfactory positioning of the sequence.

Positioning the horizon 5
Low Horizon

Finally, I positioned the horizon low in the frame. Because of the boat (and how unnatural it would feel to crop its reflection), the horizon isn’t as low as it probably should have been for the purposes of the exercise. As with the opposite version, with the horizon at its highest, it draws attention to to the area that takes up most of the screen. In the case of a distant view like this, it adds to the feeling of space, light and airiness.

At yesterday’s study visit to see the work of the ASCO Collective, and with this exercise in mind, I saw this set of portraits and found the position of the horizon really distracting. It variously decapitates the subject or enters one ear and leaves the other. The pictures show the importance of positioning the horizon, even when it is is an incidental feature in the background.

Lesson learned.

Positioning the horizon (1)
Ullswater Tree, November

As usual, here’s another picture that I took on the same walk that wasn’t part of the exercise – an exposure of over three minutes through both a polariser and a 10-stop ND filter.

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