4 ways to ensure a level horizon

Landscape Photography Tips: 4 ways to ensure a level horizon

When photographing landscapes, seascapes or architecture, there’s no excuse for not getting a level horizon. Even the slightest tilt of the camera can ruin an otherwise attractive shot. This can be difficult to get right by eye alone, even if your camera’s mounted on a tripod, but there are plenty of techniques and gadgets you can use to ensure your shots are perfectly straight and your horizon level.

Many cameras now have built-in spirit levels, grid lines or even a virtual horizon display to help you create a level composition – see the table below to find out which models offer which systems. If your camera doesn’t have any built-in levelling aids, a hotshoe-mounted spirit level is a cheap and easy alternative, or you could just use the focus points in your camera’s viewfinder to help.

4 ways to ensure a level horizon

Landscape Photography Tips: 4 ways to ensure a level horizon

Tip 1: Use the viewfinder
The focus points in the viewfinder of most SLRs offer an easy way to check your horizon. These points are often shown in a straight line on the screen, so simply use the ones nearest the horizon when you want to check that your composition is straight.

Landscape Photography Tips: 4 ways to ensure a level horizon

Tip 2: Grid lines
Some models allow you to super-impose grid lines on the viewfinder image, making it much easier to check that everything is level before you shoot. This feature isn’t available on all cameras, but if you have Live View, it should be available in the display options menu.

Landscape Photography Tips: 4 ways to ensure a level horizon

Tip 3: Spirit level
A hotshoe-mounted spirit level is a handy and cheap accessory that’s perfect for levelling your camera when it’s mounted on a tripod. Alternatively, some cameras have a built-in electronic spirit level that gives similar information in the viewfinder or on the top LCD.

Landscape Photography Tips: 4 ways to ensure a level horizon

Tip 4: Virtual horizon
Many cameras now offer a virtual horizon, which gives a visual display on the rear screen to determine when the camera is level. You activate this through the menu, and it’s then easy to line up the virtual horizon so that the camera is level in either horizontal or vertical format.

Camera support: can your DSLR help you get a level horizon?

Canon DSLRs

Canon 1100D – Grid Display (Yes – Live View); Spirit Level (No); Virtual Horizon (No)
Canon 600D – Grid Display (Yes – Live View); Spirit Level (No); Virtual Horizon (No)
Canon 60D – Grid Display (Yes); Spirit Level (Yes); Virtual Horizon (No)
Canon 7D – Grid Display (Yes); Spirit Level (Yes); Virtual Horizon (Yes)
Canon 5D Mark II – Grid Display (Yes – Live View); Spirit Level (No); Virtual Horizon (No)

Nikon DSLRs

Nikon D3100 – Grid Display (No); Spirit Level (No); Virtual Horizon (No)
Nikon D5100 – Grid Display (Yes – Live View); Spirit Level (No); Virtual Horizon (No)
Nikon D90 – Grid Display (Yes); Spirit Level (No); Virtual Horizon (No)
Nikon D7000 – Grid Display (Yes); Spirit Level (No); Virtual Horizon (Yes)
Nikon D300s – Grid Display (Yes); Spirit Level (No); Virtual Horizon (Yes)
Nikon D700 – Grid Display (Yes); Spirit Level (No); Virtual Horizon (Yes)

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