Something always looks off about photos where the horizon isn’t straight. It’s possible to fix it in Photoshop (or another image editor like Lightroom, Pixelmator, or Capture One) but it’s better to get it as close as you can on location. Here’s how to take photos with straighter horizons.
Use a Tripod and a Level
If you’re handholding your camera, your horizons are almost always going to be a little bit off. It’s almost impossible to keep it level while moving about, fiddling with settings, and pushing the shutter button.
The best way to get a stable, level camera is with a tripod. Many tripod plates—like the one in ReviewGeek’s favorite tripod, the Vanguard Alta Pro—come with a small bubble level so you can level out your camera even when you’re shooting on rough ground. If your tripod plate doesn’t come with a level, you can pick one that clips into your camera’s hot shoe up for a few dollars.
Your camera might also come with a built-in digital level or virtual horizon. Canon and Nikon’s basic entry level cameras don’t have one, but their mid-tier cameras tend to. Check your camera’s manual to find out if it has one and, if so, how to activate it.
If You Have to Handhold
If you don’t have the option to use a tripod and want to keep your horizons as straight as possible, things are a little trickier. If your camera has a digital level, use it. They’re much more responsive and simpler to read than a bubble level.
Another option is to pick any straight line in the viewfinder—I like to use two level autofocus point marks—and line them up with the horizon. The longer the line, the more accurately you’ll be able to do it. Once you’re lined up, brace your camera as tight to you as possible and press the shutter button. Make sure to use a fast enough shutter speed so that no camera movement will show.
Avoid Wide Angle Lenses
A big part of uneven horizons in landscape photos is optical distortion. Wide angle lenses give the appearance of curving lines due to barrel distortion. Unless your horizon is dead in the middle of the frame, any photo you shoot with a lens wider than about 24mm on a full frame sensor will probably show some degree of barrel distortion.