The orientation of your image: portrait and landscape (or vertical and horizontal) are the two main framing formats in photography. While their very names indicate how they are most often used, knowing how to orient your camera to highlight an element, accentuate a line or give more energy to an image is not always that easy. Here are some tips to help you make up your mind. 

Vertical for portraits and horizontal for landscapes?

The reason the vertical orientation is the one favored for portraits is because it easily allows you to focus your subject in the center of the image. This ultimately leaves little room for the surrounding setting and makes it easier to focus attention on the main subject. It is a fairly logical intuition to orient your frame in this direction when you want to shoot a portrait, since we naturally reduce our visual field when we focus on someone or on a single subject. 

Conversely, the horizontal orientation will allow for more space across and include more elements. It is therefore particularly suitable for capturing the grandiose aspect of what we see more broadly with our eyes, as is the case with landscapes. 

Vary your orientations

The orientation of your camera is directly related to the composition of your image. It is therefore important to determine the visual message you want to convey when deciding how to frame and orient your image, even if it means getting rid of the default orientation. 

While you need only move away from your subject to include a background when in portrait orientation, choosing the landscape orientation can sometimes be a better choice, especially in the following cases: 

  • To include an external element 
  • To contextualize
  • To focus on the upper body only
  • To highlight your subject with a specific background
  • To position your subject on one of lines from the rule of thirds
  • To follow the subject's gaze
  • To make the image more dynamic
  • To show movement 

Use of the horizontal orientation can also be justified for several of the above reasons at the same time, as in the following examples:

Focus on the upper body / Rule of thirds / To follow the subject's gaze © Janko Ferlic / Unsplash
To contextualize / Rule of thirds / Make the image more dynamic / Show movement © Jeremy Cai / Unsplash
Include an external element © Caroline Verone / Unsplash
Show movement / Make image more dynamic  © Quan Nguyen / Unsplash

The portrait orientation, meanwhile, allows for greater vertical details. It's very interesting to use in architectural photography in order to accentuate the dizzying sensation that one can have in front of huge buildings. 

© Joakim Nadell / Unsplash
© Ricardo Gomez / Unsplash

Mastering landscape photography

Likewise, the vertical orientation can be particularly interesting in landscape photography. It allows you to capture imposing elements and make them the main element. This orientation is often used in landscapes to highlight an element (a mountain, a tree that stands out, etc.), lending a very specific visual and dynamic power to the image.

It also accentuates the feeling of closeness, even if the photographed element is actually sometimes very far away. Thanks to this orientation, which tightens the frame, you can also take the opportunity to overlay the fields, with one element of the landscape very close to your lens and another element in the background (see the first example image). 

© Janko Ferlic / Unsplash
© Todd Trapani / Unsplash
© Ricardo Gomez / Unsplash
© Dave Hoefler / Unsplash

In conclusion 

To find the right orientation for your scene, we recommend that you simply practice doing both each time to get started. Each orientation will involve reviewing your framing and composition and ignoring the most frequently used orientations. It is therefore an excellent exercise to help you better convey the desired message and perceive the strength of images according to their orientation, since each scene, each person's gaze and each person's sensibilities are different. 

By Céline Nébor

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