One of the biggest faults with many images taken with Point ‘n’ Shoot cameras (and expensive DSLR’s too) is a wonky horizon.  Whilst having a picture that slants one way or the other won’t ruin it, getting it right can give a lacklustre image the ‘Wow’ factor, and at the very least significantly improve it. However, it’s easy to get it right in camera before you take the shot by following a few simple tips. But even if you forget to follow these, there are free software options that can come to your aid faster than calling International Rescue.  But as software options mean you lose some of your image, just follow the steps below, to widen your Horizons.

Many cameras have a display button or I (information) button on the back. When you preview an image, you will by default get certain information such as shutter speed or which mode you are in on the screen.  Pressing this button will either cycle through various display options with each press, or bring up a sub menu that you scroll through. Select the option with an image of a grid, or cycle through until a grid appears on screen. You can now use this grid to line up your horizon. It’s an invaluable tool that’s easy to use.  You might have to go into your camera’s menus or consult your camera’s manual to find out how to turn on this feature.

If your camera doesn’t have a grid feature, all is not lost.  If you move the camera upwards so that the horizon is at the top or bottom of the screen, you can use the edge of the screen as a guide, and then re-compose it whilst making sure the image stays level.

Some more expensive cameras, particularly Fuji, have an electronic level. This is basically two lines across the screen. One is fixed across the centre of the screen, whilst the other moves up and down. When the two lines are perfectly aligned (i.e. your image is level)l the moving line changes colour, and slightly thickens to cover the fixed line. 

If you are using a tripod, then most now feature a built in spirit level to help you. Some are circular with a little circle in the middle, and you set the tripod up so that the bubble is inside this little circle. Others are horizontal like a builders spirit level, and you level the tripod by shortening or lengthening one or more of the legs. If your tripod legs are not attached to a ring around the centre column that moves up and down to widen the legs, and you can independently set the angle of each leg, moving one or more legs in or out will level the tripod. Some tripods  have a second spirit level to ensure your camera is level as well as the tripod when you tilt the head backward, forwards , up, down or sideways.  If you are shooting with the camera in a  vertical position, then ensure that this second level is set correctly as well.

If your camera has a hotshoe for an external flashgun you can buy spirit levels that fit into the hotshoe.  These are inexpensive, and can be bought for a couple of pounds from Amazom or Ebay.  Avoid the hotshoe covers with a built in level, as you have to look down on the top of the camera to check the if you’re level, but the cube or oblong shaped ones are fine. Some are dual axis, i.e. two way , and for a couple of pounds extra,  you can get Triple Axis (3 way).

Now that you’ve learned the best ways to avoid a wonky horizon you won’t ever take a wonky photo again, will you? Of course you will, and that’s because it’s  so easy just to point and shoot without thinking. So, what do we do then? We use software. Even mobile phones come with software that will fix common photographic problems, from exposure to slanted horizons. Here’s 4 easy solutions.

Most mobiles sold today now have a built in image editor. My smartphone does. Browse through your phones camera roll until you find an image that needs straightening. Open it in your preferred editing app. There should be a section for straightening, or rotating images. If there is an auto fix option, select that. How good the result is dependant upon how the software analyses the shot. The worse the slant is, the harder it is for the software to detect which edge is the horizon. Results often vary. The straighten tool is very simple to use. On some touch screen phones you use a pinch and twist motion, whilst on others you enter a numeric value or move a slider to straighten the picture.

On a P.C., there’s several image editors to choose from. Some are free, others are paid. One of the easiest editors to work with is Windows Live Photo Gallery, is a basic, easy to use editor. You download it from Microsoft.com as part of Windows Live Essentials. It comes with Windows Mail, Movie Maker, Writer and Family Security, but can be downloaded on its own. Once installed,  clicking on an image in Windows explorer opens it in the gallery, and then you click on the edit tab at the top to open the image for editing. It may take you to a series of thumbnails. Your selected image will be highlighted, so double click it. You can click the auto adjust tab, but the results may not be he desired one, so click on the Fine Tune button. A list of sub headings appear down the right hand side of the screen. Click on the Straighten tab, and then drag the slider left or right until it’s horizon is level. Windows will automatically crop the photo to the same aspect ratio as your original image.

The industry standard editing programme is Adobe Photoshop. Whilst the full package is used by professional photographers, there’s a cut down version for the home user, Photoshop Elements. It’s currently on version 12. The way older versions of elements straightens photos, is similar to most editing packages. First, you click the crop tool. If you move the cursor outside the grid that appears on your image, the cursor will change to the standard rotate tool. Left clicking on your mouse or trackpad will allow you to move the mouse up or down to rotate the picture. Align the horizon with the lines on the grid. When its aligned, drag the corners of your image to the edges of the image and press the enter key or tick any box that appears on screen to perform the crop.  It’s important that you don’t move the grid outside the edges of of the original photograph, otherwise you will end up with a rectangular photo that has the area otuside the original photo as a white area. Most editing packages work in a similar way.

You have just learned the best ways to straighten your photographs , both whilst taking them, or editing them after taking them. You need never worry about taking a wonky image again.

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