Horizons are a crucial part of composition in landscape photography. They give a sense of scale and scope to the location you are photographing, by drawing the eye outwards from the foreground to the open sky.
When photographing landscapes many beginners place the horizon in the centre of their photographs, halfway between the top of the frame and the bottom of the frame, like so:
This divides the image in two, making for a disjointed composition of two halves. Moving the horizon up or down from the centre (using the rule of thirds), means that either the sky or ground becomes the major element, and usually makes for better composition.
An exception is when photographing reflections, where having the horizon in the centre of the image serves to emphasise the vertical symmetry. (You’ll learn more about using reflections creatively in a later tutorial.)
To decide whether to focus on the sky or the ground ask yourself which part of the scene is more important and interesting. If the sky is what you want to emphasize, place the horizon on the lower third. Alternatively if there is more visual interest in the land area, place the horizon on the upper third.
The horizon lowered to 1/3 height. The sky is now the main element with the foreground and jetty a pleasing accompaniment.
It can be interesting to try placing the horizon very high or very low in the scene, depending on your composition. Experiment and try out different compositions to see what works.
I placed the horizon very high in the photo below as I wanted to emphasise the length of the pier and distance of the cruiser at the end. I also wanted to incorporate the small boat large in the foreground but allowing it plenty of space. A high horizon therefore suited this composition.
However for the photo below, a low horizon suited the image, to accentuate the clouds and the action happening in the lower half of the frame.
The most important thing to remember about horizons is to keep them straight. Too often a great image is ruined by a crooked horizon. Try to adjust the position you are standing in and stay steady, or use a tripod, to compose your shot. There are ways to straighten crooked horizons using editing software but it’s better to get it right straight out of camera, as often as possible.