Let’s face it. Most of us have been victims of crooked horizons more than once.
Even with spirit levels or a built-in virtual horizon, a crooked horizon occurs on a regular basis, for some of us more frequently than others.
That being said, there’s not much that is more distracting than having one in a beautiful image. No matter how good the composition, scenery and processing are, a tilting horizon is extremely distracting and takes a lot away from the image.
Luckily, it takes less than a minute to fix in Adobe Lightroom.
How to Avoid a Crooked Horizon
Before we look at the simple steps of straightening a crooked horizon in Lightroom, let’s discuss a few things you should do to avoid having one in the first place.
Just because it’s easy to fix in post-processing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to it in the field. When doing it after the fact, the software tilts your image to where the horizon is level and crops off the corners to reform a rectangle (or selected ratio); the more crooked it is, the more you lose in cropping, i.e. the more it impacts your original composition.
This matters because the more you crop, the more you impact the composition you made.
So how do you avoid a crooked horizon?
Quite honestly, it’s not difficult to have a straight, or nearly straight, horizon. In order to do so, there are three main tools that you should know of:
- Virtual Horizon
- Bubble Level
- Grid View
The Virtual Horizon (Electronic Level for Canon) is a function found in most top-end DSLRs. You can either access it through the Live View or through the camera’s settings. Exactly where it’s located depends on your specific camera but a quick Google search or look in the manual shows you how to activate it.
Not all cameras have a Virtual Horizon feature, though. The alternative is to purchase a cheap Bubble Level that you connect to the camera’s Hot Shoe (where the flash is placed).
The two tools above are best to use when the camera is mounted on a tripod but it’s not that easy to use handheld. Instead, consult your manual to see if it’s possible to activate a Grid Display in the viewfinder.
How to Straighten a Horizon in Lightroom
Using any of the three tools above will help you to capture straighter images but they won’t automatically result in completely level horizons. Look at them as guidelines and don’t be too worried if the horizon isn’t 100% straight.
Slightly angled horizons are rarely a problem but it’s the really tilted ones you want to avoid.
Regardless of how crooked it is, it’s easy to fix in Lightroom and shouldn’t take more than a few seconds. Lightroom’s straightening tools are found within the Crop Overlay tab, which you can access by pressing R on your keyboard or clicking its icon (the furthest left icon under the histogram)
The first and easiest method is using Lightroom’s Auto Straightening function. Just by one simple click (on the Auto button) Lightroom will automatically straighten your crooked horizon. I’d say this function does a perfect job in 9 of 10 cases.
Manually Adjust Angle
Method number two is to manually adjust the Angle by using the slider or inserting a number between -45 and 45. I find it a little difficult to use this as the slider has a tendency to jump a little further than what I need.
To make it a little easier you can click on the number next to the slider and use the arrows on your keyboard to adjust the angle by 0.10 (holding shift will increase the increments to 0.50).
Use the Straighten Tool
The third, and final, option is to use Lightroom’s Straighten Tool. It requires a few more steps from your side but this will give the most accurate results (at least when Auto doesn’t work the way you’d like).
Activate the Straighten Tool by clicking on the ruler next to the Angle slider. You know it’s active when the ruler disappears from its box and replaces the cursor.
Click somewhere along the horizon (or straight surface) and while holding the mouse button, drag the line along the surface. Make sure that you’re as accurate as possible (you might want to zoom in first).
When you release the mouse button the horizon should be aligned and you’ll see that the number next to the Angle slider has changed.
Although any of these methods do a good job, the best one is still to get it correct in the camera! (At least as often as possible!)
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