Take Pictures With Level and Upright Lines.

In the last few years, I’ve improved my photography skills to a point where some random people DM-ed my Instagram to book a photo session with me, and some couples asked me to shoot their weddings or pre-weddings.

With that experience, I have quite many tips or tricks that I can share, but let’s start with one that I think many amateurs don’t do: Take pictures with level and upright lines.

Why Level and Upright Lines?

The balancing system in our vision assumes that the horizon line is always level and vertical lines are always upright. It’s something that we’re not so conscious of, but we’ll notice when the assumption is violated. When that happens, we’ll feel slightly uncomfortable.

How do we know? Try looking at pictures with slightly titled lines that are not supposed to be tilted. We may feel slightly uncomfortable.

For example, look at the following picture. Look at it attentively.

Sea doggos

What did you feel when you were looking at it? Did you notice something was a bit off?

Yes. The horizon of the picture above is slightly tilted. Now, look at this picture.


Does it look more “normal”? Is it more comfortable to look at?

A level horizon / horizontal line matters in photography. Unless you have a creative reason to tilt it, for example, to purposely disorient your viewers, ensure that it is always level.

Upright vertical lines also matter. When you see a picture with supposed-to-be-upright vertical lines, and they are not upright, you will feel uncomfortable as well.

To illustrate my point, look at this picture.

Tromsø, 2018.

What did you feel? Here is the same picture, but with upright vertical lines.

Ooh. Nicer.

Isn’t it nicer to look at now? That’s right. When the supposed-to-be-upright vertical lines are upright in a picture, they will make us feel comfortable.

How Can You Do That, Too?

Now you may have some questions popping in your head, “Okay I understand that. Any tips on how I can do that?”

First, set up your camera so that it helps you take level and straight pictures. Do that by enabling the electronic level and grid overlay in your camera viewfinder. Below is an example from my Fujifilm X-T20.

Not upright at all. Ha!

Second, practice by taking horizontally level and vertically upright picture. If you can’t find the horizon line, find flat building walls and take pictures of them.

Third, since you probably can’t get it right 100% of the time, learn how to use the rotate and crop tools in your favourite image processing tool. Some tools, like Adobe Lightroom, even have geometry to slightly warp the picture perspective.

Practice until you can take a proper flat view of building facades. See this picture of a boat at Nyhavn, Copenhagen, for an example.

Nyhavn, 2019.

So, Does Every Picture Need to Be Like That?

No. Let me remind you: you don’t need to take pictures with level and upright lines 100% of the time.

When you want to show a perspective as if you’re looking up or looking down to your subject, when you want to convey the expansive sky or ceiling, or when you want to convey disorientation or easiness, don’t take pictures with level and upright lines.

This does not need to be upright

With that said, the opportunity of taking pictures with level and upright lines will present itself to you many times. Make sure you are aware of that, and use it to your advantage.

Did it help? I am also looking for feedbacks to the content or my style or writing — if you have one, feel free to leave a comment below, or hit me up on my Instagram.

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