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Vertical or Horizontal Shots?

Vertically or horizontally—which way do you turn the camera? Most cameras are set up with grips that lend themselves to being held comfortably in a horizontal, or landscape, orientation. The higher-end cameras and mid-range cameras with external grips allow the use of vertical, or portrait, composition with the same comfortable grip and shutter release. Which direction do you turn when you're composing an image? It depends on what you want to include and what you want to exclude. There is no right or wrong. Many times, it's simply a matter of preference and what you are trying to communicate in your images.

On a snowy winter morning at Bryce Canyon National Park, I was heading for my car when a lone picnic table covered in snow caught my attention (Figure 4.17). My first reaction was to photograph the scene in a vertical format to lend height to the tall trees. On a whim, I turned the camera back to a horizontal position and clicked a few frames. Upon reviewing the images, I decided I liked the spacious feel that I was able to capture in the horizontal orientation (Figure 4.18). Both images work; I simply like the horizontal image better. Had I not turned the camera, I would have been perfectly happy with the vertical image. It was an overcast morning, and I knew when I clicked the shutter that the images would be flat, but I had black and white in mind when I was making these images. Using NIK B&W Infrared software added drama and impact to these otherwise flat-light images.

Figure 4.17

Figure 4.17 My first reaction to the snowy scene was to turn the camera to a vertical composition to emphasize the tall trees.

Figure 4.18

Figure 4.18 Here I turned the camera to a horizontal composition, zoomed out a bit more, and found I liked the more spacious feel that I was able to achieve.

While photographing the wheat fields in the Palouse region in eastern Washington, I stopped by a historic farm that is noted for its fence made of thousands of wheels and gears soldered together. It was a beautiful, blue-sky day, with big puffy clouds floating in the sky. The question came to mind, which way should I turn my camera? Did I want to convey the vast wheat fields with the fence as a strong foreground element (Figure 4.19)? Or, would turning the camera in a vertical format emphasizing the blue sky and puffy clouds better tell the story? Once again, either image works, but what was I trying to communicate in my image? My goal was to capture the wheel fence, which both images do quite well. So, it boils down to either more sky or more wheat fields. I felt that the wheat fields gave the image a greater sense of place, and I was still able to include some sky and clouds. In this case I prefer the horizontal composition (Figure 4.20).

Figure 4.19

Figure 4.19 A horizontal composition gives the image a feeling of width and expanse.

Figure 4.20

Figure 4.20 A vertical composition emphasizes the vastness of the sky rather than the fence and fields.

However, most times it's pretty obvious which way to turn your camera. When a grizzly bear is walking straight at the lens, I turn the camera to a vertical composition to fill the frame with the bear, centering it in the frame for increased impact (Figure 4.21). And when a sandhill crane with its wings fully extended flies by, I instinctively turn the camera to a horizontal composition to include it all, from wing tip to wing tip (Figure 4.22).

Figure 4.21

Figure 4.21 A vertical composition was the obvious choice with this grizzly bear.

Figure 4.22

Figure 4.22 The position of the wings and the body posture of the sandhill crane make a nice horizontal composition.

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