I have been beating Dead-center is deadly and Rule of Thirds into you for some time now. I have carefully explained that the horizon belongs, not in the center but offset, usually around a rule of thirds line to start with. That isn’t necessarily always true. There is a special piece of gear I carry with me that bends those rules-and other things too!
Enter the fisheye lens to the mix. The shot above was taken with a Canon 15 MM F2.8 lens. It is a full-frame lens whose field of view measures 180° from corner to corner. Notice that the barrel distortion of this lens is such that any item not directly on the lens’ horizontal or vertical meridians is bowed. This means if you want a flat horizon, you have to put the horizon dead-center…where it is deadly to do so.
When the horizon is placed on center to keep it from bowing, composition struggles result. Half of this picture is fairly non-descript sky. The other half of the image is more interesting-especially with the distortion effects caused by the fisheye lens. Looks like a crop is in order to help save the day.
The sky is the least interesting portion so I move the crop to eliminate most of it and place the horizon on my upper rule of thirds line. This really makes the foreground pop. It also puts the curve of the cove and the driftwood on the lower rule of thirds line. This crop is just 1.5% away from being panoramic.
- Rikk says, “Fisheye shots with level horizons tend to make for great panoramic crops.”
Horizontal and horizons go together as their etymologies suggest. But centering the horizon is a key component of portrait shots too. While the bow is less pronounced when offsetting the horizon in a portrait orientation fisheye-capture, it is, none-the-less, present.
Consider this portrait fisheye capture. This image has been straightened to account for the photographer’s lack of leveling but is otherwise uncropped. The horizon has a slight bow that can be dealt with easily in software. Compositionally, the image is still split in two. Again, it goes back to what is most important to the story you are telling. That red maple leaf I so carefully placed on the wet boulder should be your clue here. Foreground is important.
Cropping strictly for the rule of thirds, I place the red leaf on the lower right power point. I place the horizon on the upper rule of thirds line and I evaluate what I have. The image certainly has a different tone than the uncropped original. Is it better? Perhaps. Is it the best crop? Perhaps not.
I missed that delicious blue cloud bank above the red glow of sunrise. I also liked the boulders in the foreground and didn’t want to sacrifice them. Ultimately a compromise between the uncropped version, the “rule” cropped version had to be struck. The result is the image you see above you. Now the blue cloud dome contain the sunrise, changing the mood ever-so-slightly. The horizon is closer to center but not dead-center. The interest in the foreground and the delicious color are worth a little rule-breaking. (Truth be told, I didn’t mind the dead-center horizon in the uncropped shot. Blasphemy, I know!)
Unless the barrel distortion of the horizon of your fisheye capture is part of your composition, you are well-served to keep that horizon in the center and satisfy composition with a well-planned capture and a well-executed crop.
Rikk Flohr © 2010