Portrait vs Landscape

I talked earlier about the many small choices a photographer makes when composing an image and often the first decision you will make is will you shoot the scene in a landscape or portrait orientation.

Now that Instagram has decided it’s ok to post an image beyond a simple square, the issue of portrait vs landscape is a question we can take up, discuss and ultimately come to no conclusions on.

Care to join me?

Even before Instagram made this momentous decision of allowing non square images to be posted, I have been struggling with image orientation. Personally I prefer to shoot my images in portrait mode, this is probably due to so many years photographing the human body. I simply enjoy the long vertical axis of an image. When I am shooting a LEGO mini figure this way I enjoy the vast expanse of empty space that is often left which I like to fill with abstract colors and texture. Unfortunately when posting to this blog I always need to have a few landscape images in my portfolio to use as header images (those images you see at the top of each blog post).

It is amazing how one simple addition to my life, like writing for this blog, has changed the way I view my photography and how I shoot on a daily basis. Whenever I am out on a photo shoot I will continue to shoot in a portrait orientation (generally trying to observe the rule of thirds), but when I see something good going on in my view finder I will quickly change to horizontal mode and grab a few images for use on the blog.

Here is an image I took last month that I am quite fond of. Unfortunately I have yet to decide which rotation I prefer, landscape or portrait.



Heres is another example of how much an image can change with a simple flip of orientation.

Watermarked Photo (2015-09-19-0930)-2


My questions to you are:

  •  When you look through your view finder, or at your LCD screen, do you compose your shot based on the subject?
  • Do you compose your shots based on a preferred orientation?
  • Now that Instagram is allowing images beyond the basic square, are you tempted to upload your images full frame?
  • Do you prefer the square format on Instagram?
  • Do you like to mix it up and keep your audience on its toes?

I hope you will join the discussion and we can drop down this rabbit hole together.

~ xxSJC

16 Replies to “Portrait vs Landscape”

  1. I haven’t been using Instagram that long, but I’m already used to taking square photos. Even when I use a DSLR to take photos, I often take landscape photos and crop them to squares. I think I will have to experiment with taking portrait photos as well.

    1. Let me know what you think about portrait versus square. I have been playing around with square more. I find its easy to crop a portrait into a square without losing too much. In fact my next show I am thinking of presenting only square images. Its fun to play with different presentations. I am so glad IG has given us a choice!

  2. I actually prefer landscape orientation, and was always turned off by Instagram’s square-only format. That kept me off of the platform for some time (and of course, once I finally sucked it up and began posting, they introduced landscape and portrait! Haha). Now I’m tempted to go back through and upload the landscape versions of the square photos I’ve already posted.

    As far as how I approach a photo, I guess I usually picture it in landscape before I ever start shooting. I always feel a bit awkward shooting in portrait; it’s like writing left-handed! Sometimes, I enjoy playing around with the empty space that a portrait photo provides. I think my affinity for landscape comes from all my years of videography experience. Since portrait is the standard there, I must have carried those rules and techniques with me when I began LEGO photography.

    1. James I guess we have you to thank for the extra options on IG!

      That is interesting that you link your comfort with landscape with your video work. I have been doing a fair amount of video as well and it also informs my photography. My short DOF and strong rule of thirds composition I attribute to that part of my creative work.

      Thanks for chiming in on the discussion! :-)

  3. I’m a big fan of square format, it removes the decision of whether to go portrait or landscape! I do find that format a bit awkward to print though, it wastes paper and it’s difficult to find standard sized frames. Also quite tricky to visualise in the viewfinder of an SLR.

    I much prefer the “robot” photo in portrait. The reflections balance out nicely whereas they’re cropped off in the landscape version. The second photo doesn’t generate as strong a preference, but I have a slight bias towards the portrait as I’m quite fond of portrait shots in general (and I’ve been shooting exclusively portrait for the last week!). Saying that there’s quite a lot of out-of-focus foreground in that one, I’d probably crop it square with the boat in the lower left. :)

    1. I think with the advent of IG, there is also t more choice of ready made frames for the square format. Have you looked lately? I hear you on the paper waste though. But that should never stop you from choose the right format for each image.

      I also prefer the portrait for the robot. The landscape cuts off the reflection. If I had seen it at the time I would have backed up a little. But then again thats hard to do when you are laying down on sharp rocks. :P

      On the second image I was originally drawn to the portrait (I like the soft focus in the foreground, it is the abyss he is about to plug into) but I have since succumbed to the landscape. I really like the bokeh in the background and I think he looks more active in that shot.

      Thanks for chiming in Mike! Its always great to get your opinion!! :D

  4. That’s the kind of article I love because it really makes you think about how you and others actually take pictures. You mentioned you instinctively shot in portrait mode because of your past experience with toy photography. Because of my experience with travel photography (which includes a lot of landscapes) I tend to do the opposite: I mostly use landscape mode. It’s maybe also because I feel more natural to hold a DSLR in landscape mode both when holding it in my hand or on a tripod. And finally looking at pictures on a computer screen for 15 years has probably also had a lot of influence on me.

    On one hand I try to avoid at maximum those instincts because I think composition should not be instinctive but based on the subject and the action. The photos you showed in the article really illustrates this. I feel the first one is better in portrait and the second in landscape because of the direction in which the “action” makes me read the image.

    On the other hand I think that whether composing in portrait or landscape mode can also be part of one’s style. And to go further I think that the question can be extended to what format use for a picture. I mean you can shot a picture in portrait or landscape mode but also with different ratio: 3:2, 4:3, 16:9, 2:1, 3:1… Recently I tried to experience more with other ratios than the 3:2 of my camera but I find difficult to do it when shooting because I’m too tied to my viewfinder when composing.

    Oh and on the square format I don’t like it. In some cases it can work well for portraiture but I can’t compose in a square format as soon as there is an action or interaction to include in the frame. I need the frame to have a direction may it be vertical or horizontal.

    1. So much great food for thought in this comment! Thanks for diving down the rabbit hole with me!

      Yes our past experience does inform our current shooting practices. I like how you realize this and are trying to resist the urge to shoot entirely in landscape mode. You are right about being tied to the viewfinder, I am as well. It is a little horizontal box which makes it hard to think in those other formats. Even though the camera can be programmed to capture the image that way, it doesn’t help when framing the shot. Which of course is where ideally the decision should be made.

      If you have any topics you want me to take on, feel free to leave me any suggestions. Lets keep the discussion going!

  5. Now you’ve got me thinking why I always shoot landscape. Basic camera design messed me up. It’s how I hold it so it’s how I capture. When I got the 7D I also got a battery grip so I’ve started challenging myself by turning the world on its side.

    1. David I love that this is helping you to think about the choices you are making! That is awesome! No matter if you choose landscape or portrait for your shots, each time you look through the viewfinder you will get faster at making the right decision for each image. Have fun playing around!

  6. Hmhmhmmm,
    interesting thoughts indeed. As I haven´t got long time experience shooting I had to rely on what “feels” right. I mostly prefer landscape mode, just not exceptionally. It always depends on the object you want to shoot. I do agree with most that portrait mode is good for the first shot as it shows the reflection perfectly. The landscape mode works better for the second image as it emphasizes the way of action.
    A thought on the square format:
    As soon as apps like Squaready were there I enjoyed using them in order to not being limited to the square of IG- Still it may work on certain occasions.
    No matter who prefers what format and why it´s interesting for me to read about the pros and cons.

    1. Stefan, I think this post comes at a good time for you. It is always good to be thinking about what and why you are framing your photos the way you do. There is no right or wrong answer, as long as you know what your thought process is behind your decision. They each have there uses and it is good to know when and how to use them to best effect. Happy shooting to you!! Shelly

  7. I do shoot all my pictures in landscape, but generally with the ‘square’ in mind. Having said that, because most of my pictures tend to be a comic frame, I always have in mind to include space for the speech bubbles.

    However, landscape now allows for more room on a picture for speech and minifigures, thus allowing for more of a tale to be told. I used to use Squareready in the past to produce the wide-screen picture, but abandoned it as it was a bit too much trouble.

    On the other side, I would find portrait a bit too restrictive. It would only leave room for one figure – that may work for the ‘stand-up’ pictures, but the speech bubble would have to be ‘outside’ of the picture itself.

    Therefore, the portrait shot is fairly redundant for the type of pictures that I take. Although, the above Chima pictures were quite an eye opener.


    1. Cole, I am grateful that IG has allowed us to post images in varies formats, Having to rely on third party apps like SquareReady seems foolish. Not every image can be pushed into a single square format. Obviously when using speech bubbles that little extra room offered by a landscape orientation makes the image so much easier to read. I am glad you enjoyed my little demonstration of how much an image can change by a simple orientation change. Thanks for joining get conversation! Shelly

  8. A fantastic thread.

    I think I will keep my response to a full blown post later this week, because otherwise I would get very lengthy here anyway.

    Thanks for kicking this off, Shelly !

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