There are two main ways of holding a camera when taking an image – vertically or horizontally. These two modes are also often referred to as ‘portrait’ and ‘landscape’ formats.
These names give some indication of how people traditionally have formated portraits and landscapes – but is a vertical (or portrait) framing always best for portraits?
Today I’m going to suggest that you explore mixing it up – as part of our breaking the rules of photography series.
Faces and bodies are generally pretty elongated objects and so a vertical (portrait) framing can be quite well suited to them – however using a horizontal framing can also lead to some visually interesting shots also.
I particularly like a couple of horizontal framings when it comes to portraits:
Tightly Cropped Faces – Try zooming right in on the face of your subject in horizontal mode. In doing so you’ll probably find that you lose a little of their chin and perhaps some forehead – but it will give you a shot with a strong presence with the eyes prominently placed. You’ll also find that it leaves little room in your images for distracting backgrounds.
Head and Shoulders – One of the most effective ways of using horizontal framings in informal portraits is when you want to place your subject off center with a nice out of focus background behind them. While you can do this in a vertical formatted shot there is less room to play with.
There’s something about a horizontally formatted portrait that says ‘informality’ to me. Conversely – the vertically formatted shot can come across as a little more formal or ‘posed’. Of course there’s nothing wrong with either formal or informal portraits – but it’s worth doing some experimentation next time you’re photographing people.
Which format do you use most in your portrait photography? Experiment with some different framings next time and see what impact it might have.
This post has been updated – it was previously posted in January 2007