When I’m with a group of photography students, I constantly say, “It’s All About The Light” and “Exhaust All Possibilities.” Good light has an obvious way of speaking for itself so for this week’s Tip, I focus on my second pet expression. One of the ways I remind students to exhaust all possibilities is to make a horizontal AND a vertical of every subject. In that verticals often get overlooked, it’s time to give them some props and discuss their virtues.
With regards to some subjects, turning the camera vertically is more of a given. Think of a tree. When you fill the frame with a solitary autumn colored aspen, a vertical orientation is natural. With the camera held horizontally, a lot of extra image area has to be included. If the environment is intriguing or if the sky behind it is dramatic, by all means, go horizontal. A person is another subject where a vertical orientation comes naturally. Tall buildings, a solitary mountain peak, icicles, and many waterfalls are all good candidates for verticals.
The General Premise: If a subject is taller than it is wide, orient the camera vertically. To test this general premise, make images of obvious vertical subjects with the camera held horizontally. Be sure to include the entire subject. Repeat this with the camera held vertically. Two things should be very obvious: a) the horizontal image forces you to include extra subject matter to the left or right of the subject; b) the vertical capture forces you to zoom the lens to a longer focal length. An advantage is there’s less chance to include background distractions. Another one of my favorite expressions is, “The background is equally as important as the subject.” With the potential for fewer background distractions, going vertical is a good thing.
Reflections: When a vertical subject is reflected in the water, you get double the image real estate. If you photograph wildlife this is a huge benefit. You don’t need as long a lens to get frame filling captures. You don’t have to throw away precious pixels as the file won’t need as much cropping. With the reflection, you double the size of the subject and a vertical format works wonderfully.
Impact: A vertical composition commands power. The reason is psychologically based. Think back to the times when your parents or teachers told you to stand up tall. It implies stronger stature. Think of the expression, “Stand up for yourself.” There’s no surrender or giving in. Vertical lines command regard. Horizontal lines imply rest, peacefulness and sleep - it’s done in a lying down position. To show dominance, regard and distinction, orient the camera vertically.
Provide yourself the opportunity to “exhaust all possibilities” the next time you go out to photograph. Turn your camera vertically and challenge yourself to find dynamic compositions. Find a composition of a classic horizontal subject and make a successful vertical. It may even lead to another one of my favorite expressions - “find the picture within the picture!”
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