Image Orientation

By Geoff Harris

Which is Best - Landscape or Portrait?

Which is Best - Landscape or Portrait?
A friend of mine is a great travel photographer whose work has been featured in national newspapers and even on CNN's website, but something like 90% of his images are taken in landscape (i.e. horizontal) format. Even portraits of people, that you'd think would immediately lend themselves to portrait format, get the long sides/short edge treatment.

Composition: How to Compose a Photograph

When I pointed this out to him, it came as something of a revelation. It wasn't down to any technical shortcomings on his part, it was just habit and an indication of how easy it is to get stuck in a rut.

This raises a bigger question, however – what format should you use for your images, and if you don't get the format right in-camera, how should you crop them?

1) Landscape or portrait?

Which is Best - Landscape or Portrait?

There are no hard or fast rules here. You might think it's obvious – landscape for landscapes, portrait for people shots – but this is a horribly crude rule of thumb. The winning image in this year's Landscape Photographer of the Year competition, for instance, was taken in a portrait format.

Composition: How to Compose a Photograph

Why? Because it suited the subject (a stream, shot against Glencoe in Scotland). The photographer's intention was to clearly delineate the flow of the water, from start to finish, and this would not have come over so well in landscape format.

The extra space on either side of the stream would have been distracting. If you are unsure what format works best, try shooting in both formats and then decide at the editing stage.

2) It's hip to be square

Which is Best - Landscape or Portrait?
There is nothing to stop you shooting in any number of permutations and variations of the traditional formats, so don't be afraid to try square and panoramic formats if it suits the subject.

Even circular shapes can work, particularly for portraits, or a scene with a very strong focal point – such as a lone tree in a landscape. It's now very easy to do this in software.

If you find yourself losing important elements of your composition as a result of choosing unusual formats, though, it's probably time for a rethink.

3) A load of crop

Which is Best - Landscape or Portrait?

As regular readers will know, I am less and less keen on extensive cropping; I think the ease of cropping with digital has made modern photographers lazy, and less likely to get the framing right before they take the shot.

A very radical crop may also produce an end result that is simply not high resolution enough. There are times when some 'gardening' is needed however, and obviously commercial photographers may need to provide images to a set format.

Composition: How to Compose a Photograph

In which case, try the cropping tool in Lightroom, which is easier to use than the one in Photoshop CS while still giving lots of options. If you use a D-SLR, handy crop/print sizes to try are 4×6 inch, 6×9 inch, 8×12 inch and 12×18 inch.

While the 8×10 is also a popular format, you can end up losing part of a person's head, for example, particularly if you have shot very tight. So whether you shoot in landscape or portrait format, it's worth leaving a bit of extra space in the frame to allow for any cropping that needs to be done at the printing stage.

Further Study

Composition: How to Compose a Photograph: A  4 week online Photography course with international landscape photographer Tony Worobiec

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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