Landscape format vs. Portrait format

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Why you too should turn the camera vertically more often!

Landscape format vs. Portrait format

Most of us take pictures in landscape mode. It's only natural: in the horizontal our field of vision encompasses about 180 degrees, but vertically only about 130 degrees. So we see in widescreen, so to speak. Computer monitors and televisions are designed for landscape-format representation. Cameras are designed so that we can conveniently take pictures in landscape format.

Photographers mainly use portrait format only for subjects that are high rather than wide. For instance, it is widely used in portrait and architectural photography. Landscape photographs too, use it occasionally to include more of the foreground and thereby increase the impression of spatial depth.

But apart from such conventional uses, portrait format is also excellent for changing the content of a photographic statement. Due to the vertical frame, the viewer's gaze is focused on a fairly small segment of the field of view. New elements above and/or below the main motif suddenly make a more important contribution to the visual statement. By omitting the context to the right and left of the main subject more tension can also be created in the picture.

Just for once, as we did during a trip to Tokyo, consciously photograph some subjects both in landscape and in portrait mode. This is a good exercise to train the eye and to take more expressive, more compressed shots.

Photo of a Japanese drinks vending machine. Here, portrait format gives it more the feel of a documentary, as it places the series of drinks bottles in the context of other information. For instance, now a poster and the device for contactless payment by credit card can be seen as well.

House entrance in Tokyo. When composing using portrait format, the photographer oriented the picture along the vertical axis, which is created by the electric poles. As a result, the picture content changes: In addition to the window on the first floor, closed by a green shade, he also brought the blue awning and the decorative elements of the shop next door into the picture. The front door and the parked mopeds to the left of it, however, are gone.

Shrine in a residential and business district near the Japanese Imperial Palace, Tokyo. The two pairs of pictures show clearly how the visual message can be varied by different framing. It is noticeable that a greater spatial effect is created in both cases by using portrait format.

In one instance, the plant whose yellow leaves are climbing a wall looks rather stumpy (landscape), in the other (portrait format) as if striving upwards. The effect of striving upwards is achieved to some extent by making the plant's stem appear to be longer and the free space above the plant suggests there is still room for it to grow further.

Street scene in Tokyo. Whilst with landscape format the shop and the passers-by are the main subject, portrait format turns the lonely tree into the centre of interest. Simply rotating the camera in this case caused a fundamental change to the image statement.

Try it! From now on take more photographs in portrait mode. Make it a habit to always look at your landscape format subjects in portrait mode. This way you train your eye and discover some entirely new motifs. After some time you will intuitively turn the camera to the vertical when you see a likely subject.

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