Written by
The Photography Guy, Professional Photographer

Reviewed by
Chris Johnson, TPG Editor

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Ok, so quite a straightforward one for you today but at the same time a feature that can separate an amateur photographer from a professional one.

This post is all about getting straight photos out of your camera or in the editing suite. Our in-depth photography course has so many more useful tips for photographers of all abilities so if you find this post helpful why not sign up and join our active community of Smart members.

We realise it doesn’t sound like much and quite an incidental thing to worry about but we see time and time again that epic photos are ruined by unintentionally being off-kilter.

By simply straightening a photo it can become way more visually pleasing and will add a level of professionalism to your images.

If you think about it we naturally prefer the aesthetic of straight lines. You wouldn’t, for example, hang a picture that wasn’t level or put a shelf up that was slopping downwards.

By lining things up with the ceiling and floor we add a level of balance that our eyes prefer to look at that.

The same principle applies to photography and that’s why it’s so important to create straight lines in your images.

featured image for straightening lines blog post

The Importance of Straightening Lines In Your Photography

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Why Aren’t Your Photos Straight?

Slightly off-kilter horizons are a very common mistake and mainly occur in landscape photography.

There can be a few reasons why you aren’t getting perfectly straight horizons and in many cases, it is an easy fix.

Are You Using Your In-Camera Spirit Level?

Some of the latest camera models have virtual spirit levels built in. This is a great feature which can normally be used in Live View mode.

It overlays a guide which makes it really simple to achieve straight horizons and lines to your photos.

Have You Got A Spirit Level?

If your camera isn’t equipped with a built-in digital spirit level then you can usually add one to the hot-shoe of your camera or many tripods have them built in.

The small size of a hot-shoe spirit level and its inexpensive cost means that it is a must for any budding photographer looking to get straight lines to their landscapes.

Something to consider:

Do you want to learn more about photography? Smart is the world’s leading online photography course offering in-depth training, mentoring and classes to creatives of any skill level.

If you want to improve your photography then be sure to sign up to Smart today!

Correcting Distortion

Another common reason for curved or leaning lines within images is a distortion caused by your lenses.

Luckily this is an easy fix within Lightroom and one that can really benefit your photos.

Distortion typically occurs on wide angle lens where lines placed near to the edge of the frame can appear to be bent.

The lens correction tool in Lightroom is a great way to fix this. Simply click the button and it will identify your lens and correct accordingly. If the fix isn’t quite enough there are manual adjustments you can make in order to straighten the photograph.

Getting Straight Lines To Start With

It can be really important for you to learn to get straight lines in camera. Whilst you will be able to edit your images to achieve straight lines in post processing there is a trade-off for this.

The downside to straightening photos in post-production is that you will lose parts of your composition as you tilt and crop the photo.

If for example your composition is particularly tight and you have important details close to the edge of the frame these could be lost as you straighten your image.

Our advice is that you pay attention to capturing a straight image in the first place. If you continue to take this into each photo session your eye will naturally be drawn to capturing straighter images everytime you pull out your camera.

By identifying and prioritising the thing you want to be straight within your images you can then begin taking your photos.

Using live view with a gridded display is a really good way to get straight lines in camera. Equally, many cameras have a gridded viewfinder option which can also be very useful.

The gridded displays also help you with composition and achieving the rule of thirds etc.

example of how to straighten and image

Left image shows the original image. The red line is perfectly straight. Right image shows correct straightening.

How To Straighten Your Photos

There are a few ways to go about this in Lightroom but let’s start with the quickest and possibly the simplest of them all the ‘straighten tool’

You will find the straighten tool if you click the ‘crop overlay’ button or hit the key on your keyboard. It is displayed as a spirit level icon in Lightroom and is really easy to use.

Simply click the spirit level icon to begin. Hover over your image and click at one side of the horizon. Then draw a line to the other side of the photo following the horizon. Once you have done this Lightroom will automatically straighten your image. Job done!

You can use the above method for any orientation of a photo to help you achieve straight lines.

Another method is to use the slider which is also located in the crop overlay section. This will then allow you to adjust the angle of the photo by eye until you are happy with the results.

Using this method isn’t necessarily as accurate as the straighten tool but it does have its advantages. Take a landscape photo with hills, water and sky as an example. In this instance, it can be difficult to determine what actually needs to be straight as there are multiple points of reference.  What you should do in this example is experiment with adjusting the angle of the photo to find the correct balance.

You can also achieve straight photos by manually adjusting the angle of photos by hovering close to the corners. This will reveal a double sides curved arrow which allows you to alter the angle of the photo by eye again to achieve the desired result.

Our course is a great way to find out about the tools within Lightrooms library. If you managed to pass the course you will also receive a photography course certificate which is something to be proud of. Good at editing. Check. Straight photos. Check. Course Certificate. Yes Check!

Example Of Tilted Horizon

As you can see from the image below this is an amazing photo that is being hampered by its crooked composition.

non straight horizon photo

Example of an unbalanced photo because of the horizon

In the image below we have drawn a red line where the horizon is and a green line demonstrating where it should be.

As you can see the red line is at a slight angle. Let’s see if the photo looks more balanced when we straighten it up.

example of off-kilter horizon and how to fix it

Red line indicates the current horizon. The green line is where the horizon should be.

As you can see in the image below we have now successfully straightened the horizon.

For us, this dramatically improves the quality of this landscape photo and provides a more balanced composition.

landscape example of straightening a photo

Example of a straightened photo

What To Take Away

We hope that this blog post has given you some insight into the importance of achieving straight lines to your photographs.

After looking at countless images and reviewing thousands of portfolios it is one of the most common mistakes we see. We firmly believe that a crooked horizon or off-kilter building can really make or break the success of a photograph.

As always there are certain guidelines but that’s not to say you shouldn’t break the rules. Some images call for an intentionally crooked image to add drama and we love it when our members experiment with their photography. See our post on Unconventional Composition to find out more about breaking the rules of photography to achieve a unique look to your photos.

Making simple changes to the way you approach both your photo taking and image processing can really give your images that professional feel.

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