Gorton Creek in Wyeth, Oregon. This location is about 60 minutes east of Portland.

Experiment w/Horizontal & Vertical Compositions

In Landscape, Photo Tip by Brian Matiash4 Comments

What is the capacity of the memory card in your camera? I reckon it’d range between 16 Gb and 128 Gb, right? With all of that space, is there any reason why you shouldn’t experiment with the orientation of your composition on a shoot? Sure, there are plenty of times when the scene unfolding in front of you clearly presents that going horizontal or vertical is the right one to make. However, in many other cases, that choice isn’t always clear cut. I find myself switching back and forth between composition orientations all the time when I’m standing in the middle of a creek or at the base of a waterfall. Usually, I’m looking for elements within my scene that provide clear indications of leading lines and paths for the viewer’s eyes to follow. However, what’s interesting is how vastly different the exact same scene could be presented simply by turning your camera 90 degrees. Thankfully, this is a ridiculously easy process for me, thanks to the L-bracket system that Really Right Stuff makes.

Gorton Creek in Wyeth, Oregon. This location is about 60 minutes east of Portland.

The exact same photo as the one above, except presented vertically.

Take this photo as an example. The only difference between it and the featured image above the orientation in which it was photographed. When you look at the two side-by-side, my point is made quite clearly. All of the basic elements are the same—the moss, the direction of the water, and the rock layout—but the overall feel between the two is completely different. I applied the exact same stylization to both photos to keep them consistent, as well. Still, they strike me as totally different—not better or worse—just different. So, next time you’re out on a shoot, remember to give yourself an opportunity to leverage this photo tip and experiment with the orientation of your camera and what effect it has on your composition.

  • Ben

    I was once given this advice: When is it best to take a vertical photo? Right after you take a horizontal one.

    • There is no hard and fast rule. I experiment with both orientations when I’m unsure if there is one clearly optimal way to present a scene.

  • Why not also try square? I “grew up” on 6x6cm format and I love it. I dislike FF 3:2 format because it is generally too oblong for my taste. Many digital cameras have the 1:1 capture option (and other non-native formats) which makes it easier to compose in camera, but we may be too lazy to avail ourselves of the option. Nice landscape image BTW, albeit perhaps a bit over-saturated in the greens.

    • Ken Green

      Art is what the artist likes. In this case perhaps it’s the bit over saturated greens.