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|| News Item: Posted 2011-08-07

To Tilt Or Not To Tilt …That Is The Question
By George Bridges, McClatchy-Tribune Photo Service

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Love it. Hate it. Some ridicule. Others admire. Every photographer and picture editor has an opinion on tilting photographs. The Sports Shooter Newsletter asked several photographers for their personal thoughts on this topic.)

Photo by George Bridges, McClatchy-Tribune Photo Service

Photo by George Bridges, McClatchy-Tribune Photo Service

Is it a third baseman waiting for the ball or a skier flying downhill?
Before you react to my next statement, trust me, I've heard all of the explanations, reasons, excuses, etc. and I simply don't buy them.

Do not tilt your horizons.

There, I said it. Maybe I go against the grain of "creativity," but, to me, tilting an image adds nothing to a photo.

Tilted horizons have long bugged me. I just don't get it. With the exception of skiing, golf, cross-country and off-road racing, sports are generally played on a level field. Most news events happen on fairly level ground as well. The pictures should show that.

I have been photographing sports professionally for nearly two-thirds of my life, and I've never seen a 100-meter dash run at a 60-degree downgrade. When TV announcers say a fullback grabs the ball and "runs downhill" they are not speaking literally.

Yes, sometimes it is hard to keep the horizon level when you are panning along with a play or turning the lens from first to third quickly to get a play, especially when using a monopod and you can't rotate the camera fast enough. But, that is one of the things that is acceptable to correct in the end product.

I remember my jaw dropping the first time I saw someone rotating the crop tool in Photoshop to make the horizon level. I can even remember the photographer's name though it was more than 15 years ago, it was such a revelation. It was sooooo simple.

When using the Leafax, most photographers would cut along the sprocket holes to be able to shift the negative in the scanning process to get a level image. And for the old school way, we rotated the paper easel while printing.

I understand that as a photographer you get tired of shooting the same thing over and over and over. Watching racecars during qualifying gets boring. You want to do something to "spice it up." Well, tilting the horizon does not spice anything up, but it will produce an image that grabs the reader's attention -- makes them look at it and say "When did Danica Patrick drive off a cliff? I didn't see it on SportsCenter."

Sure you get bored shooting 2,000 frames of race cars going by, but you have to remember that the reader will see only one of those images in print (maybe 5 in a web slide show) and making the frame at an angle does nothing to help the reader understand the race.

When Sports Shooter Newsletter publisher Robert Hanashiro asked for commentary on tilted horizons my first thoughts jumped back to college when I saw at an image in the student paper of a fireman in the bucket of a rescue truck. The horizon was tilted so far that I had to keep rotating the page to all angles to try to figure out exactly how the photographer was standing when he shot it. I never could figure it out.

Creative? No. Trying to make an interesting image out of nothing and failing miserably? Yes.

Concentrate on making peak action images in your sports photography and you won't have to worry about attracting the reader with a gimmicky tilted horizon.

George Bridges Sports Shooter member page:

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