If you look at photos around the various social media outlets, you will often see images that are not quite level. While it seems like this should be relatively easy to avoid, sometimes our subjects make this rather difficult. In the first image, taken inside the Minnesota State Capitol, getting everything level is pretty easy.
There are a lot of horizontal and vertical lines to work with in the scene. In addition, we have the luxury of standing on level ground. What happens when we don't have level ground to work with?
Our cameras give us some great tools. The first tool is the view finder grid. This tool is available in just about every camera and phone. It displays a grid in the view finder that can be used to "line up the shot." This can be really handy for scenes like this Iowa farm house. In order to get this shot, I had to set up on a road that sloping in one direction and an embankment that was sloping in the other direction.
I made use of both the grid lines as well as the virtual horizon feature in my camera. The virtual horizon provides an indicator in the bottom of the view finder that indicates that the camera is level. Most DSLRs, Mirrorless, and Advanced Point and Shoot cameras have this feature.
At this point, it would seem like this is all that is needed to get a level shot. Unfortunately, sometimes it is not so simple. Consider the following image of Mickey's Diner in St. Paul MN.
The thing I discovered when taking this image is that the subject itself is not level. When I had the virtual horizon showing that the camera was level, the grid indicated that the diner was not. If you look at the building behind the diner, the horizontal lines are at a slight angle. With the camera level, the lines on the building in the background were level, but Mickey's diner was not.
In these situations, you need to make a choice. For me, the diner needed to be level even if in real life it is not. I used the grid lines to make sure the windows were all level and then took the shot.
To summarize, the approach I use to level out my images is to first make sure the camera is level using the virtual horizon feature. I then look at the grid overlay and determine if the image has the perception of being level. If not, I adjust based on the grid. If I am not sure, I will shoot the image both ways and pick the one I like best. I may also shoot slightly wider to allow for some image rotation in Lightroom.