March 5, 2015

As part of our new Guest Blogger series we’ve reached out to our community of talented artists to share their knowledge, passion, and art! In this post, Alan Lemire explains the use of the horizon in landscape photography and how it changes what you say with your photographs.

Landscape photography can seem extremely simple — find a beautiful vista, point your camera equipped with a wide angle lens at it, press the shutter release, and PRESTO … an amazing landscape photograph!

With today’s software magic, you don’t even need to worry too much about your exposure. Between Photoshop’s amazing adjustability and the miracle that is HDR, most situations can be massaged and tweaked to show everything in both the sky and any dark shadows that happen to be there.

How then, does one differentiate their work from everyone else?

The challenge is to photograph the natural world in a way that most people don’t, won’t, or can’t see it. I have found that the best way is to eliminate all extemporaneous distractions from within the frame — going even so far as to crop out the horizon. I will admit that sometimes it is simply impossible to not have the horizon in the photograph. Many times the horizon may even hold key elements to your composition, but sometimes, eliminating it can lead to more interesting and dynamic images.

Lemire Blog 1

In the two images above, I have photographed very similar scenes of glacial ice that has washed up on the black sand beaches of southern Iceland. Both were shot on a tripod in order to allow the incoming wave to blur into softness. As I set up the camera and tripod, I naturally included the horizon (a simple way to make sure the camera is level). After taking that shot, I adjusted my tripod head so that the horizon was not in the crop.

The image on the left is a good, solid photograph. Symmetrical by design, it has drama created by the intense brightness of the ice contrasting with the black sand on the beach. Inclusion of the horizon gives you a lot of information: it gives you scale for the glacial ice, it hints at location as you see only water, and time of day is also indicated by the brightness at the horizon.

Excluding the horizon in the image on the right begs the viewer to ask those questions. Where is this? What size is that? What time of day? This forces more interaction between the viewer and the image. And this interaction, is the goal of art.

Lemire Blog 2Above is another example of two images taken at the same place. In these two, however, it’s not as clear which image is stronger. The image on the right cuts out the horizon, and invites the viewer to question many of the same things as the previous example — scale, location, etc. Thanks to some minute figures, the image on the left asks some questions of its own. The dark figures of surfers are small enough that you might not be sure what they are, and invite the same kind of interaction that you should be pursuing.

Keeping this in mind the next time you are out photographing, you might ask yourself if including the horizon is helping, or hurting your composition.

About the Author: Alan Lemire is a commercial and fine art photographer that has lived in Michigan, California, Idaho, and currently resides in Massachusetts. Along with shooting for clients such as Gap, Kohl’s, Amazon, and Lands’ End, he has also taught photography at Art Center of Design and Academy of Art University. You can check out his blog at and follow him on Instagram @alanphoto63. You can also purchase prints of Alan’s work in his Crated gallery:

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