Positioning the horizon

This post is my learning log for exercise 2 “Positioning the horizon” in TAOP project 3: Dividing the frame.

In Peter Bogdanovich’s 1971 documentary “Directed by John Ford”, Stevel Spielberg tells of the time, when he was 15, where he met John Ford and learnt his secret.  Ford told him “Where’s the horizon? Can’t you find the horizon? Look at the whole picture! When you come to the conclusion that putting the horizon at the bottom of the frame or the top of the frame is better than putting it in the middle of the frame, then someday, you may make a good picture maker. Now, get outta here!”

Spielberg aside, the purpose of the exercise was to take a series of photographs of the same scene, varying the horizon’s position. The course material suggests a scene with an unbroken and clear horizon, but in my rush to get out with the camera when the sky finally cleared a few weekends ago, I forgot about that and instead chose a landscape with a tree with pretty autumn-yellow leaves. I think the findings are still valid despite that.

Fig 1: Horizon at the upper third

Given the height of the tree, this was as high as I could place the horizon. The foreground dominates the image (just a shame there’s nothing in the foreground to interest the eye), and there is good depth in the image, with the path leading the eye past the tree and into the background.

Fig 2: Central horizon

The horizon cuts the image in two equal halfs. The image looks quite static – an accurate representation of what it looked like, but just not very interesting as an image.

Fig 3: Horizon at lower third

With the horizon below the centre of the picture, the sky is given dominance. The eye is drawn straight to the tree and the background, and the foreground, although still visible, doesn’t receive much attention.

Fig 4: Horizon at the bottom of the frame

Here I tried placing the horizon as low as possible, while still allowing the tree to have some ground to hold it. At the same time, I moved a little sideways and kneeled down to get a perspective with the bush and tree visually separated. The background trees and greenery gets very little attention.

The central placement of the horizon in Fig 2 is the least interesting, and Fig 1 and Fig 3, with the horizon splitting the frame into roughly 1/3 and 2/3, are the typical landscape compositions.

However, in this scene I much prefer the composition in Fig 4. The sky is promiment (it occupies 80% of the frame), but at the same time, the tree is also given more prominance, by having the branches and leaves placed against the blue sky rather than against the background of similarly coloured bushes. The background is shrunk so much that it hardly gets any attention. The picture now seems to be about wide, open spaces in general rather than about a specific field in Essex.

Being unable to leave stuff alone, I went on to post process Fig 4, cropping slightly, increasing the saturation and contrast, and ended up with the picture below.

Fig 5: Final version after post processing

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