As a professional photographer who has shot editorial work for magazines, I’m often stumped by this observation; most amateur photographers shoot 80-90% of their work in landscape orientation. As a photography judge, instructor and tour leader, I just don’t see photographers shooting in vertical orientation much. Yet, as a photojournalist, I was trained to shoot verticals and horizontals equally.
I’d like to explore that a bit and, if you are one of those who tend to do 80% or more of your work in landscape orientation, give you reasons and a few tips to change that practice.
I’ll be the first one to admit that it is “unnatural” to shoot vertical. Cameras are engineered to be held horizontal. Unless you have a well designed battery drive, most camera controls are designed for hands that hold the camera horizontally.
You have to contort your hand-arm-body position to accommodate vertical shooting. Plus, vertical shooting does not give you as stable a platform as horizontal, where you have your elbows tucked against your side. Unnatural or not, let me tell you why you should try.
Too Many Horizontals
One reason to record more vertical images is simply the fact that the majority of images you see are in landscape orientation. Look at the Internet, look at amateur gallery exhibitions or competitions. If you want to stand out from the crowd, you need to nail down your vertical shooting skills, from the physical aspect of your hand grip and stance to the compositional subtleties that make for compelling verticals.
Why Not Both?
Which brings me to the next logical point; why not shoot both orientations? When you come upon a scene, train your eye to seek out strong vertical compositions.
The reason I mention my training as a photojournalist is that for most magazine work, verticals rule. Magazine pages are verticals. Rarely do you see an image spreading across two pages, which is the only way you can get a nice full size horizontal. Plus, the image would be broken by the publication’s spine. Or, the landscape would only be able to occupy a 1/3 or 1/2 page spread.
Think of the cover of any magazine. Not only does the image have to be a vertical, but there must be enough space left for article titles and other come-on marketing messages. That is why pro photographers always look for strong verticals as an integral part of our work. So, if one of your photographic goals is to shoot for magazines, you’d do well to get verticals front-and-center of your shooting routine.
One suggestion I have is to go out on a self-assignment and make sure you take 50% of your images in vertical. It may be hard at first, but soon you’ll get the hang of it.
One rationale for verticals is that it is a handy way to remove distractions that may be present on the edges of your frame. Whenever I run into this problem, and cropping in-camera won’t help, then I look for ways to capture the scene vertically.
Strong compositional elements are critical for good verticals. Fortunately, verticals work very well when dealing with patterns, texture, leading (or leaving) lines, and foreground elements, to name only some. Dramatic skies can also be a boon to verticals.
Photographic Ju Jitsu
I admit to often going against the grain, so here’s where I flip verticals on their side, so to speak. Most portraits, especially environmental/travel portraits, are done in vertical orientation. That’s a great technique if you are shooting tight to get the face or faces just right.
But I am a fan of horizontal portraits when possible. I find they often fill in the context that is so often missing when shooting portraits vertically. In the following image, I wanted to get this Sri Lankan vendor’s serious expression, but needed a context for it.
The Mental Adjustment
Finally, as with all aspects of photography, it’s the mental adjustment that is most challenging. I encourage you to go out and ask yourself the following question when shooting.
Will a vertical image improve the composition?
If you’d like to hear me discuss this on YouTube, click here.
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