Positioning the horizon

Is this a reasonably interesting landscape as called for in this exercise?  Well it contains the iconic Burnham-on-Sea lighthouse and if you look carefully you can see the infamous Hinckley Point nuclear power station across the water; most of all it provides an unbroken and clear horizon.  So, all in all, I think the scene fits the bill.

My own research suggests the the points to consider when positioning the horizon are; what are you trying to say; anything obviously dominant in the scene; linear relationships; balance of tones or colours; importance of the ground or sky.  All of this is against a background of the Golden Section proportions, Fibonacci Divisions and Geometrical Divisions or, perhaps to sum up, the Rule of Thirds.  Quite overwhelming on the first pass!  However, I was glad to see acknowledgement that, since photographers rarely have a blank canvas to start with, the composition is largely intuitive, once again, not rules but guidelines.  Nevertheless, it would appear that these mathematical based compositions do result in a more pleasing image whether deliberately composed or the result of intuition, perhaps something worthy of deeper study considering my lack of artistic understanding.

In the series of shots above I started by placing the horizon at the top, albeit not at the extreme; on reflection it might have been more revealing to go to the limits for this first image.  Note the effect on the verticals as a result of camera tilt, missed that during the shoot!  This first shot gives prominence to the beach with the foreground interest of the beginning of the sand dune, the pattern and texture of the sand and the driftwood.  Moving to the middle ground we have the lighthouse which is the dominant object and, to my mind is the other half of the equation, land/sea or sky.  Certainly this shot gives depth to the scene and portrays the role of the lighthouse as it looks out over the channel; it involves you more.

The shot with the horizon placed centrally (DSC_5267) obviously brings the sky more into frame.  In this instance the cloud formation is not dramatic enough for me ( I have previously taken shots like this at sunset when I think it works) and it seems a much flatter shot, therefore I do not favour this one.

With the horizon low (DSC_5270) there is some foreground interest with the driftwood but it is not anything special.  The sky has prominence but I still think the cloud is not dramatic enough to make this the shot of choice.  Again, different weather conditions could easily make this a very pleasing shot.

Overall, my preference is for the first shot with the horizon set high.  I think there is more interest in the beach with the corner of the dune rising away to the left giving a wraparound impression, the driftwood and the lighthouse providing a dominant object in the scene.  This is a scene which can change dramatically and in other weather conditions my choice could well be either central or low horizon, perhaps a good example of “waiting for the light”.


Freeman, M. (2007), The photographer’s eye Composition and design for better digital photos, The Ilex Press Limited, Lewes.

Prakel, D. (2006), Basics photography 01 Composition, 2nd ed, AVA Publishing SA, Lausanne.