Feb 11, 2012

Landscape versus Portrait Photography Format

One of the first decisions we make as photographers when taking a picture is to shot in portrait or landscape format. Portrait versus landscape depends much on the scene and photographic motif. The right choice of format should add to an image, rather than detract from the picture. Most photographs are taken in landscape format. A horizontal picture usually appears calmer and allows the viewer to explore the motif and photograph, as the eye naturally wanders from left to right in accordance with the people's reading ability in the western hemisphere. The horizontal photo appeals more natural to the human eye, which comprehends wider easier than higher. The human eye is very much in-sync with landscape format since we are surrounded by day to day items that are rectangular shaped, e.g. movie, computer, touch pads or TV screens, cell phones, a microwave, even a simple car windshield we look through while commuting back and forth between home and work.

Portrait format creates pictures that are often more interesting with a deeper spatial perspective. It is especially interesting in landscape photography where it often adds drama and provides a viewer with an unusual, different view.

At first glimpse, the above motif of a blue Cape Cod dinghy seemed to be a perfect image for landscape format. So, I first went along in one of my early attempts where I laid the focus solely on the boat by a conscious decision of a 200mm lens and a high horizon placement. Not a bad picture but was it the best landscape photography image I could get away with that day?

Luckily I did not think so and instead of packing up and moving on, I decided to follow my Photographic Instincts and explored different perspectives. I switched from the telephoto lens to a 28mmm wide-angle lens. The broader view with more spatial depth in the next image was accomplished by a low horizon placement. A small aperture (high f-stop setting) provided the required Depth of Field. The image itself I felt had a lot of distracting and unnecessary elements to the left and the right which is why I changed from landscape to portrait format in the final image.

The format twist eliminated and distracting aspects from the composition, while the low horizon further enhanced the feel of spatial depth of the open, wide marsh landscape. The last 2 images clearly demonstrate what a format change from landscape to portrait is capable of doing for our Landscape Photography; it shows how photo details are added or eliminated by the switch. Next time you are out in the field do not forget the portrait format and consider once in a while a compositional format adjustment to hopefully enhance a picture.


  1. As a wedding photographer in enfield, these principles are highly regarded. But at the end of the day, it's how you capture the image that looks as if it's seen from your very own eyes.

  2. That's true but probably a ton of all photography pictures are taken are in horizontal format. If I would have packed up that evening after capturing the blue boat on Cape Cod in landscape format satisfied with what I got I never would have branched out for the portrait format. Some subjects lend itself to that format but others have to be explored and if artists and photographers are more aware of them they might appear more natural while out photographing the wonders of this world. Thanks for commenting Mickey. My best,