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Straighten You Out

I will always maintain that there is no right or wrong with photography, like any other form of art, it is all a matter of perception. In recent years I have been asked how I take such pictures, how do I get “those colors” or how did I manage “that shot”. It is more a matter of being completely comfortable with whatever camera you choose to shoot with, to know it inside out. Like any car, after you drive it long enough to become accustomed to it’s behavior. If you treat it well, it will serve you well. The camera is no different, if you develop a good relationship with it, it will also serve you well and deliver the results you want.

Again, please keep in mind that this is only my opinion and I do not intend to state any fact here, simply some advice for the curious. I spend a bit of my free time browsing photography forums, and while there, I will always run across photos that could have been great, but fall short because the intention was there, yet the photographer did not go all the way. There are photographers who can pull off the lopsided angle shots, but it takes finesse and years of developing their “style”. The subject really needs to be remarkable as well to make the shot work, a lopsided photo of some colorful boxes or an empty wine bottle require an extra bit of effort to make them look great. I come across many photographs that look like they were shot faster than their eyes could compose the scene. This does not mean they are bad photographs or the photographer was bad, I think the photographer can push their technique further by simply keeping an eye on their horizon line.

I’m convinced this is one of the keys to taking “good” photos. There will always be angles and lines in your composition, even if they are not obvious, they are there and you need to be in tune with your environment to see them. I use a level to help when I’m shooting street photography. I keep an eye on it to make sure my horizon line is straight and not crooked(I also rarely use my viewfinder, but I will get into that madness later). This seems obvious, right? Too simple, right? Well it’s clearly not. Head over to any photography forum and you will undoubtedly find hundreds, thousands of photos that are all taken at odd angles, and few of them work. See diagram A.

An easy example is shooting your friends portrait along a sidewalk. You’re paying full attention to your friends face, and there is some sense of urgency because you don’t want to make your friend stand still too long, right? You need to take that extra second or two to check the background and make sure the street is level. If not, your friend will be nicely framed, but the background will be awkward and uneven(see diagram B), and perhaps dissappointing depending on your taste. See diagram A, the red line is the horizon line, the end of the street, is it straight across or is it slightly angled? Try to straighten out a little, it will make a huge difference in the end result.

See diagram C. Consider I am shooting an intersection with many people crossing. It’s difficult to find the horizon line because there are so many people and the roads are crowded. You want to take the shot, the movement adds to the pressure, you also don’t want to be the only one standing still, it will make you stand out too much, especially if you’re aiming for a candid shot. Before going out there, check the surrounding buildings. Use them to straighten out your shot. Imagine the two red lines in diagram C represent two buildings on either side of the street. Take those few seconds and keep them straight in your viewfinder and your shot will come out much nicer than if you took the shot quickly, which would result in diagram D.

This really depends entirely on your taste and shooting preference. I only find that even taking some really simple shots, then showing them to friends with the camera viewfinder leaves them impressed. It’s really a simple matter of straightening out your shots. This is not the only technique, but it will help if you are not satisfied with that portrait of your neighbors cat sitting on top of your empty D800 box. 😉