PORTRAIT VERSUS LANDSCAPE
photography, one has the easy choice of shooting a vertical
or landscape frame. It might not seem a matter of any consequence
– a picture is a picture. In some cases, one or the other
format immediately suggests itself. While a scene can be framed
either way, there is often a preference since portrait orientation
produces a very different effect than a photograph pictured
in landscape. Choosing one or the other however, is not a trivial
The portrait is most often used when shooting people. It also
lends itself to trees, flowers, and photographing creatures
such as giraffes and tree monkeys. The most obvious reason is
that these sorts of things are vertical beings and portrait
orientation is an excellent way of capturing them. Of course,
this doesn’t mean that landscape orientation is unfit
for photographing people; it just means that portrait orientation
seems more natural.
As a way of focusing on a subject, the general difference between
portrait and landscape orientation is that portrait is more
akin to poetry while landscape is more like prose, more ‘odyssaic.’
Portrait orientation captures a narrower frame and so concentrates
its composition more tightly and simply. The story told in portrait
orientation is direct and simple. It offers a delimited description
or account about an especially focused element. Sometimes, it
is much simpler to frame a portrait than in landscape. I think
it is interesting to consider the two in terms of their difference
in emotional and intellectual maturity.
Landscape is more expansive. It tells a more complex story and
includes more elements related to the story all aimed at providing
a larger reference for contemplation. The more experience we
have will result in more frames of references from our life
experience, the net effect of which will increase the opportunities
for an inspired photograph. The more we see and understand the
more we want to reveal.
There is no getting around the fact that landscape photography
is compositionally more challenging than portraiture because
there are more elements to frame. One has to be very careful
that all of the more numerous components in the frame act to
reveal the scene as powerfully and convincingly as possible
and that there are no extraneous elements intruding into the
photograph. The complexity in a portrait frame is not less challenging
or -- it is a different story, a different intent.
In the portrait and landscape examples below, the difference
between the two are significant. Different moods and stories
emerge. How we frame depends on what we see and the story we
want to tell.
scene here is quite gentle. Two people are in kayaks enjoying
a serene excursion down a waterway. On shore there are people
jogging and walking leisurely on the pathway. The greenery is
civilized and manicured and there are large apartment buildings
housing at least a thousand people. A reflection of one of the
buildings stretches close to the kayakers. Altogether a scene
of a relaxing Sunday afternoon in civilized nature.
This is a completely different experience. The water way stretches
far more broadly and more extensively in this picture adding
to the insignificance of the kayakers. The trees on the right
hand frame add a sense of the wild and untamed to the picture
and they obscure the distant reaches of the waterway adding
a sense of the unknown, of mystery to the area towards which
the kayakers are travelling. There is a reflection of trees
in the water ahead of the kayakers that is larger than the reflection
stretched along the water of the apartment building and it waits
further downstream from them toward the unknown distances. This
reflection catches the wildness, however apparently trivial,
of the trees in the right-hand of the frame.
In the portrait scene, all is casual and leisurely; in the landscape
orientation the scene is more compelling and mysterious and
is a trivial example, but I think it helps to illustrate that
the framing we use has an important effect on what we reveal.
Often we respond automatically to a scene we want to capture.
In such cases, perhaps in all cases, we may want to try framing
our shots in both portrait and landscape modes to discover narratives
we may not have immediately imagined.