A place to think about composition in photography

Playing with Horizons

The horizon doesn’t always have to conform to the thirds convention.  Memorable photographs can be created with horizons placed very high or very low.  The effect of this is to emphasise the foreground or the sky.

The interesting stuff happens when we leave out the horizon altogether.  Have a look at this photograph:


At first sight this seems like a perfectly ordinary picture.  The more you look at it, the more it seems slightly surreal.  This is caused by the fact that there is no horizon in this photograph.

Why the viewer is engaged

We are so accustomed to seeing the horizon line that the viewer invents one where none exists.

The first assumption the viewer makes is to place the horizon line at the water line of the large boat.  This creates a problem because this makes the small rowing boat seem to float above the boat.  Then what about the floating red and white buoys?

The gaze searches above for a horizon line to make sense of all this but cannot find one. The viewer has to work a bit harder and build a three-dimensional plane on which we know everything must float and that means the horizon must lie beyond  the frame of the picture, it must be there surely….?

All this happens very quickly as we take in the image but the first impression of calm familiarity gives way to unease about where are the real reference points in this photograph and this creates an atmosphere of gentle mystery that holds the attention of the viewer.

I’ll return to this theme in future posts because we all need a little mystery in our world of seeming certainties.


One response

  1. Alexandra

    As an amateur photographer, I find his blog really insightful, a great read and some lovely shots.

    November 15, 2010 at 7:05 pm

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