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Horizontal vs Vertical Photos

Something I think about a lot:

When should we shoot vertical and when should we shoot horizontal? And what visual-psychological effects do either have?

Horizontal photos better for negative space?

To place my subject on the extreme left of the frame — perhaps this is better to emphasize negative space.

Figure it out while you’re shooting

Some portraits Cindy shot of me– some horizontal, some vertical.

Perhaps we shouldn’t think too much about horizontal vs vertical (from an intellectual perspective). Maybe when we see an interesting scene, we should just shoot both then figure out later which works better.

Layered photos work better as horizontal photos

Layers in Mexico City, 2020
Layers in Mexico City, 2020

If you want to shoot layers, then perhaps horizontal compositions are better.

Capturing more of the scene

Also when shooting horizontally, you capture more of a scene.

Vertical photos to eliminate clutter

The upside of shooting vertical photos:

You can get closer to your subject (portrait) and fill the frame, and eliminate clutter.

Shooting horizontally and getting really close makes for more mysterious images

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I generally find it more difficult to frame a scene horizontally when you get really close to a subject. Thus in this sense, an idea is:

As a “creative constraint”, shoot all your photos horizontally, and get very close to your subjects.

Mark Cohen does this well in his street photography by cutting off the heads and limbs of his subjects.

Horizontals ideal for laptop screens

Also if you’re doing a photography project, it does often help to have all the photos in the project all horizontal. Why? Considering most of our laptop screens and monitors are horizontal, horizontal photos better fit our screens as “full screen”.

This is what I did in my SUITS project: shot all the photos as horizontal:

  • Film Leica, 35mm, Kodak Portra 400, flash. SUITS

How about smartphones?

Another thought:

Snapchat is “vertical video”. Why? Because it is smartphone-first.

  • STREET PORTRAIT. Newport Beach, 2017
  • Gallo boxing. Lansing, Michigan 2014

Then perhaps if your strategy is to optimize your photos for phones, then perhaps a “vertical-dominant” strategy is ideal.

Tiled Galleries

My new favorite discovery and joy is ‘tiled galleries‘– a function in WordPress in which it automatically optimizes BOTH your horizontal AND vertical photos in a nice tiled collage.

With this; it doesn’t matter!

Practical ideas:

  1. Perhaps for a photo project: shoot it ALL horizontal, or ALL vertical (as a fun creative constraint).
  2. If you just wanna shoot freely; shoot both. When you see interesting scenes, keep “working the scene” in BOTH vertical and horizontal.
  3. Just shoot however you like, and then figure out later how to layout your photos (according to your verticals and horizontals).

But ultimately, what is the great joy of photography? Unlike CINEMA, we are not slaves to only horizontal-orientation. So my takeaway:

When in doubt, embrace BOTH horizontal and vertical!


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