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A Guest Contribution by Todd Sisson – author of our Landscape Photography eBook.
The majority of landscape images are photographed in the horizontal aspect. I guess this because the horizontal format approximates the way in which we perceive ‘reality.’ However landscapes look stunning in the vertical format and often the unique characteristics of the upright format suit a scene better than a horizontal* composition. I am guilty of undershooting verticals these days, primarily for commercial reasons, but in any given shooting situation I try to remind myself to seek both a vertical and a horizontal composition from a scene.
Here’s why I think you should photograph vertically and some quick tips for successful upright image making.
Vertical composition using a wide angle or ultra-wide lens is the fast track to making interesting landscape images. My first successful landscapes were all vertical compositions where I found a moderately photogenic foreground object and used this to lead into the greater scene. To this day I find it easier to frame up an interesting sunset in the vertical format. I use rocks, grasses, flowers – just about anything with form to introduce the viewer’s eye to the scene.
In this dPS blog post, I explained the principles of ‘dynamic landscape compositions’. What I didn’t reveal in that article (for some inexplicable reason) was that vertical compositions can often accentuate the dynamic qualities of an image – particularly when using an ultra-wide lens.
In the introduction I polluted the artistic sanctity of the article by mentioning ‘commercial reasons’. Five years ago we made most of our living from selling postcards of our images – horizontal postcards vastly outsell vertical postcards, and they fit better on a display stand, so I found myself inadvertently locked into a horizontal mindset (as I mentioned last week, deep thought and self-awareness are not my strong point). This sales trend is definitely mirrored in our website where the bulk of our print sales are horizontal.
However, In the past year we have ramped up our stock photography activity and this is one area where vertical images sell extremely well – especially for editorial usage and magazine covers where the format works beautifully with the vertical layout of printed media. Consequently, we are shooting a lot more vertical images. You may not be a full-time photographer but there are myriad ways to earn money from your photographic hobby these days, don’t leave money on the table – shoot verticals along with your horizontal compositions.
As I noted in the previous image, getting low and close accentuates the visual power of leading lines and dramatically increases the visual weight of foreground features. To go low you will need to use a tripod that has no centre column in order to get super close to the ground, I have detailed our tripod advice here which may be of interest if you are perplexed by the ins and outs of the tripod purchasing process.
When using an ultra-wide lens it is possible to include the full sweep of a scene and accentuate the visual dynamics of the image by getting above the foreground elements and composing vertically. To achieve this you will need a tripod that extends well above the height of your subject matter and then angle the camera downwards.
When composing strong verticals I tend to ‘break down’ the scene into foreground, midground and background (the same thinking helps with horizontal images of course). A good composition will contain interest in all three of these visual zones – which roughly approximates the rule of thirds compositional guidelines.
Having just referred to the dreaded rule of thirds, I feel it my duty to throw a spanner into the works. Try messing with your vertical compositions by leaving ‘too much’ empty space. Dead space can look cool and graphic designers love it for dropping text into (sales tip).
Telephoto verticals are a particularly attractive compositional option, particularly around mountains. Because the long edge is oriented top to bottom you can exploit telephoto compression more effectively (by allowing more foreground into the frame at longer focal lengths and emphasizing the height differential across the scene).
An L-bracket or ‘L-plate’ is an L-shaped (surprise, surprise!) tripod mounting plate that wraps around your camera body. This allows you to effortlessly mount your camera in the vertical orientation without having to flop the ballhead’s mounting point over on it’s side. Never again will you have to fight gravity and adjust tripod legs in order to get the camera leveled when shooting vertically – genius!
You will find a bit more information on the benefits of L-plates here on our website.
*I use the terms vertical or horizontal because the commonly used ‘portrait’ and ‘landscape’ terminology makes me abnormally irascible and grumpy. These terms are a nonsensical hangover derived from a Windows 95 printer options dialog box (maybe this riles my inner Mac Veteran). After all, a portrait can be photographed vertically or horizontally and likewise a landscape…..
Todd & Sarah Sisson are full-time landscape photographers based in Central Otago New Zealand. They are the authors of our new eBook Loving Landscapes: A Guide to Landscape Photography Workflow and Post Processing.