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Portrait format, sometimes called vertical format is for portraits, right? Well, of course many portraits are shot in that format but not all. By the same token, not all landscape shots need to be shot in landscape format. One of the things you often see with people starting out on their photographic journey is a reluctance to turn the camera upright when shooting. Maybe it feels alien or uncomfortable but is a very important habit to break. Today we will look at some reasons to shoot in portrait format.
1. Gets it All in the Frame
Be it the spire of a beautiful Gothic church or a modern skyscraper, the fact is, unless you want to move back a long way and have severe converging verticals, portrait format is the way to go. The beauty here is that you can be much closer, which in turn not only allows you to control the foreground interest better but also reduces the need to point the camera upwards. The rules of composition still apply, your rule of thirds is still as relevant as before, you just need to visualize your thirds grid in the upright format.
2. Works Well with Leading Lines
One of the cornerstones of composition, leading lines work really well in the portrait format. Look for shadows, man made features or nature to lead the eye through the lower two thirds of the shot with the subject matter placed on the upper third. Curved leading lines are particularly good for this, leading the eye on a journey through the image before arriving at the subject matter.
Leading lines lend themselves to the portrait format. Photo by Jason Row Photography
3. Adds Negative Weight
This is another powerful compositional technique that lends itself well to the portrait format. Unlike leading lines, you can have your subject on either the upper or lower third using the other two thirds of the space to bring the eye directly to the subject. The negative space should be something like a plain block of color, blue sky or water for example.
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Negative weight is another technique that works well in portrait format. Photo by Jason Row Photography
4. Useful in Shooting Panoramic Images
There a couple of advantages to shooting portrait format when creating panoramic images. The first is you will be using more images so have a much higher resolution final shot. The second there is less distortion, this is because most distortion occurs at the outer edges of the lens’ coverage. The top and bottom of the frame are cropped much further into that lens coverage compared to the left and right. When we turn the camera upright, that distortion moves to the top and bottom of the frame which are the areas that we always need to crop out from our final panoramic.
5. Helps in Shooting From a High or Low Position
The portrait format works well when we are shooting either from a high or a low position. When low, we can use a large area of the foreground to draw the viewers eye towards the subject. Landscapes also work well here, especially if using a body of water. The first third of the image will be the water, the second third the land and lastly the sky. The same is true when shooting from a high position, particularly in cityscapes, although the hustle and bustle of the city below can be a subject matter on its own or a device to lead our eyes towards a structure in the distance.
6. Adds Commercial Value
Whenever you pick up a magazine, the cover photo is, by its very nature, in portrait format. Not only that, the adverts inside are also vertical, more often than not. There is a big demand for portrait format images shot with “space”. By this, I mean room at either the top or bottom of the shot in which publishers and advertisers can put their copy. This space needs to be neutral and uncluttered to allow text to project well from it.
This image has plenty of space for text to be added. Photo by Jason Row Photography
7. Improves Macro Compositions
Flowers and plants also work well in portrait format. The petals of a flower can be placed on the upper third of a vertical shot, with the stem coming in from one of the lower corners drawing the viewers eye up and through the shot.
Macros work well in portrait format. Photo by Jason Row Photography
Portrait format is a fantastic format for many types of photography. If you are new to photography or just have not used this format much, get out there and try it. Try to shoot subjects both in portrait and landscape format and compare the differences in composition. As you become proficient with turning the camera around, you will soon see a whole new range of photographic possibilities.