Photo Tip Friday: Portrait versus Landscape, Part 1

by Mary Denman    @MaryDenman
There are two main orientations of your camera in photography: portrait and landscape. 

When composing a picture, it's good to know if one orientation will produce a better shot. 

There are rarely hard and fast rules in photography, so it's good to understand the strengths of using each orientation. 

As you learn more about when to each of them, your photography will improve. 

Let's get started.

Photo 1: Landscape Orientation 
Photo 1 

Let's start with a shot which was taken in landscape. 

This orientation takes advantage of the bridge over the stream that runs through the park. 

I caught the long lines of the road and bridge and they are emphasized by keeping the camera in a horizontal position. Then, I framed the picture with a tree on either side of the edges. 

Photo 2: Portrait Orientation
Photo 2 

This is in portrait style. It's the same trees, stream and bridge. 

Can you see the difference in the photo by simply rotating the camera 90 degrees? 

I framed this picture very differently in the vertical orientation. Notice the one dominant tree on the right side of the photo. The bridge is still there, but is no longer a major part of the shot. 

Do you see any other differences from photo 1? 

Here's a question for you: Can you say photo 1 is definitely better than photo 2? Or vice versa?

I don't think so in this case. It really depends on your preference. But hopefully you can see how much orientation changes the overall effect of your composition.

Photo 3: Portrait
Photo 3

This is an example when one orientation is definitely better. 

This stream had a beautiful reflection of the tree. Because of the length of the water, I used a portrait orientation. 

It allows your eye to be drawn the length of the stream and the beautiful lines it carves. 

I don't even have a horizontal shot to compare to this because it just didn't work. Portrait was the clear choice here. 

Tip 1: If in doubt, try both a vertical and horizontal shot to see which is better. 
You may be surprised. Both may turn out well, or one my be the clear winner. 

Photo 4: Portrait

Photo 4

Not only did I use portrait orientation to create this shot, but I also used a fresh perspective. In order to take this, I had the camera on the ground and rotated it to look up from there. 

Your eye is once again drawn deep into the picture. The bridge plays a prominent role in the shot. Personally, I love the blurred leaves in the foreground. 

If you've read my blog for a while, you'll notice I talk about perspective. 

By taking Photo 4 from an angle we rarely see, this creates a more memorable shot. 

Tip 2: Try a new perspective when composing a shot. 

Today is an overview of the two orientations. Next week, in part 2, I will give you some other guidelines about how to choose one or the other and explain how visual lines in the picture do make a difference.

ASSIGNMENT: Grab your phone or camera and try this immediately. Take pictures of something around you and in both portrait and landscape and see what the differences are. Is one better than the other? 

For BLOGGERS: When you write a post, do you want it to draw your reader in like the portrait stream shot in photo 3? Maybe you want to present a subject with a fresh perspective like Photo 4. Or maybe you want to present a broad, breath-taking overview like the Blue Ridge Mountains. Spend a few minutes and think about your writing and how you want to present it. 

For CELL PHONE USERS: By turning your cell 90 degrees, you can take either portrait or landscape shots, just like with a regular camera. Remember that you focus and read the light in the same place. So focus on the part of the picture that you want to be clear. 


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  1. Great post. I always try to take shots in both vertical and horizontal, especially of landscapes. I'm always amazed at the different details and emphasis each picks up.

  2. I never figure out what's better - vertical or horizontal. This post really helps figure out what to focus on with both options!

  3. I love the perspective on Photo 4. It certainly is memorable!