Which Way? When to Photograph in Portrait or Landscape Orientation

The post Which Way? When to Photograph in Portrait or Landscape Orientation appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Megan Kennedy.

The standard camera sensor is rectangular in shape – a configuration that allows for both portrait and landscape orientations.

But is landscape orientation crucial to the execution of a landscape photograph? Must portraiture always be photographed in portrait orientation?

Plus, what if you’re photographing a subject that’s neither a portrait nor a landscape? What orientation works best?

In this article, we’ll have a look at how to choose between a portrait or landscape orientation in photography.

portrait and landscape orientation examples

A bit of history

Landscape orientation

Portrait and landscape designations likely stem from the orientations of canvasses used in art.

The dimensions of a horizontal rectangle best accommodate the wide vistas depicted by landscape artists. This earned the format its landscape title.

However, the landscape orientation is not restricted to landscape photos. Yes, landscape masterpieces by Vincent Van Gogh, Hokusai, and Monet have been in a landscape format. But artists like Sandro Botticelli and Wassily Kandinsky have created non-landscape art using landscape orientation. Frans Lanting, Andreas Gursky, and Gregory Crewdson all depict photographic subjects with the landscape orientation.

It’s the same for portrait photography. Photographers such as Robert Frank and Annie Lebovitz have approached portraiture in a landscape format.

horizontal orientation leaf

The landscape orientation of this image of a leaf conveys a more relaxed viewing approach

Portrait orientation

A canvas taller than it is wide has become known as portrait orientation.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring are famous examples of portraits depicted in the traditional format. And Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother and Steve McCurry’s Afghan Girl are well-known examples of portrait photography executed in a portrait format.

But portrait orientation isn’t limited to depicting people. Painters like Rachel Ruysch and Claude Monet worked in a portrait format to accommodate non-human subject matter.

And Edward Henry Weston used a portrait format to lend a formal quality to his investigations of organic materials, while the Bechers made hundreds of portrait-oriented images of urban landmarks.

vertical leaf abstract

The portrait orientation of this leaf abstract lends a more formal quality to the image.

Should you use portrait or landscape orientation?

Fitting the subject

One of the deciding factors in choosing between a portrait or landscape orientation is the dimensions of the subject itself.

In terms of framing the face and body of a human, a portrait format can be ideal. The vertical nature of the human body works well with a portrait orientation.

Vertical subjects like tall buildings, trees, and waterfalls may also require a portrait orientation to be captured in their entirety.

vertical orientation flower

Subjects made up of horizontal elements (like aircraft and landscapes) can fit better in landscape orientation.

Landscape orientation can also provide more room for incorporating additional elements into a photograph.

This is particularly useful in genres of photography like environmental portraiture, where the setting of the photograph is as important as the subject.

horizontal or vertical horizontal airplane

Because of the dimensions of aircraft, aviation photography is often carried out in a landscape orientation


The orientation of an image contributes significantly to visual emphasis.

A portrait orientation exaggerates the upright extension of subjects in a photograph. But a portrait orientation also speaks to our associations with tall subjects, emphasizing a sense of independence, wonder, modernity, and even superiority or unease.

In contrast, a landscape orientation places extra emphasis on space, illustrating ease and immersion.

In the simple example below you can see the different emphasis being placed on the floral silhouettes.

The portrait example emphasizes the energetic, upright quality of the flower. The landscape orientation creates a more relaxed perspective.

flower silhouette example


Every photographic situation is different and sometimes an element in a potential image is less than ideal.

If there are elements present within a photo that you would rather omit, switching camera orientations might help achieve a more polished image, either in-camera or in post-processing.

Cropping out excess information with a portrait orientation will simplify an image and minimize distractions.

Switching from a portrait to landscape orientation will decrease image height, prioritizing the horizontal flow in a photograph instead.

abstract horizontal of water

Formality vs relaxation

Over time, our historic use of image orientation has associated specific visual qualities with both portrait and landscape formats.

Portrait orientation is associated with the formality of historic portraiture. It is also associated with being upright, which is attached to wakefulness, sociability, and energy.

A landscape format, on the other hand, can lend a more relaxed, organic impression to a photograph. So a horizontal orientation is associated with laying down, lending a more tranquil quality to an image.

woven mat


Choosing between a portrait or landscape orientation isn’t easy. There are many aspects to consider, and the orientation of an image depends heavily on the situation.

But if you understand the benefits and drawbacks of different orientations, you’ll be in a good position to decide which orientation to use!

Do you lean towards portrait or landscape orientation? Share with us in the comments!



The post Which Way? When to Photograph in Portrait or Landscape Orientation appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Megan Kennedy.

How Self-Portraiture Makes You a Better Photographer

As long as art has existed, so too has the self-portrait. Van Gogh famously painted more than 30 self-portraits, using the available subject-of-self as both an outlet for his artistic talents, and as a method for perfecting his craft. Rembrandt, as perhaps the most prolific master of the self-portrait, painted, etched and drew more than 100 images of himself throughout his lifetime. One can even imagine the cavemen as having injected some degree of self into the prehistoric images painted on their cave walls.


Self-portraiture is NOT the same as a Selfie

But as rich in history as the self-portrait is, its categorization as a photographic ‘art’ is vulnerable due to the endless arms-length phone snaps, or ‘selfies’, now littering the internet. Lately, there has been a blurring of lines between the selfie and the self-portrait. As someone who has focused his own artistic energy toward self-portrait photography, I feel obligated to promote this art form, as self-portraiture provides value in terms of both the photos it produces, and the education if offers you as a new photographer.

The most patient model ever – you!

For me, self-portraiture began as a way to develop my own portrait photography skills, without the need for a model. As you probably know, learning the principles of photography, and the strategies for creating and controlling light, is a time-consuming process. It involves a great deal of trial and error, and asking a model to pose patiently while you make mistake after mistake isn’t always ideal. But you, yourself, are an infinitely more willing subject. Hours pass, memory cards fill with lackluster images, yet you don’t complain. Alone, you’re able to relax and focus on the task at hand: learning to become a better photographer.

Experimenting with artificial light (orange-gelled strobe imitating fire)

Use self-portraiture as a creative outlet

When enough solitary time passes, you’ll find that you begin to produce decent results. Soon, what began as a learning device morphs into a creative outlet. Self-portraiture is no longer an exercise to be performed in preparation for real photography; self-portraiture has become the real photography. Unlike selfies, your self-portraits are well conceived. The location, framing, lighting, depth of field and posing associated with the images are carefully planned. You work both sides of the camera with increasing efficiency, and the quality of your photography reflects the education received.

Self-portraiture offered a unique photo opportunity during this extended flight delay in Shanghai

From that point forward, you don’t hesitate to jump into frame should the inclusion of a person improve your photograph. When you want to test a new piece of gear, fine-tune a new technique, or kill a boring Sunday afternoon by setting up your camera, you do so with absolute independence. When photographing other subjects, you borrow from the lessons learned through self-portraiture, and the result is stronger photography, all-around.

‘Producing’ self-portraits offers both artistic challenges and skill-building opportunities

For those considering an attempt at self-portrait photography, here are a few tips to get you started:

Technique – focus

While taking self-portraits, one of the more difficult aspects to nail down is focus. You don’t have the luxury of pinpoint-focusing on the subject’s face, for example, when you, yourself are the subject. To get around this challenge, it is important to have a stand-in object on which you can focus the camera. I personally use my light stand, as it’s usually with me, and is tall enough to mirror my own height.

First, I determine where, in the frame, I will position myself and I place a ‘mark’ on that spot to ensure I’m continually in the right position. Small rocks, a line of chalk or a crack in the sidewalk have all worked well as my mark. Next I focus my camera on the light stand. Once my focus is perfect, I switch my DSLR to manual focus mode. From that point forward, unless I make manual focus adjustments, the focus will remain unchanged. As long as I stand on my mark, I’ll be in focus. This is particularly important when using shallow depth of field, where a single step forward or backward will cause you to be out of focus, ruining the shot.

Proper focus was critical to the success of this image, taken at a razor-thin f/1.4


  • Tripod – when you’re in front of the camera, you can’t also hold the camera. Therefore, a tripod is an absolute must for serious self-portrait photographers. This is an obvious recommendation, I know. My real tripod tip is this: invest in a quality tripod that’s robust, yet light, so you won’t mind carrying it. Also make sure it offers flexibility with regard to the positions it can assume. If the legs act independently, and if the tripod can effectively hold your camera at heights from ground level to eye-level, it’ll come in handy.
  • Wireless remote trigger – while not essential, a wireless shutter release for your camera is a definite plus. The timer setting built into most cameras can get the job done, but for those serious about self-portrait photography, an inexpensive wireless remote is a no-brainer, and will save you from having to walk back to the camera after each frame.

My flexible tripod, offering a low perspective, and the remote in my pocket, allowed me to work quickly


  • Self-portrait photography is a production. The act of selecting the location, framing, camera settings and your own placement within the frame is a slow and deliberate process. Taking self-portraits forces you to consider all of the individual components that combine to make a good photograph, and successfully intertwining these ingredients into a successful end result requires planning. So, plan, and learn to enjoy the process of planning your next photograph. The mental thought process will help your self-portrait photography as well as any other type of photography you choose to tackle.
  • Create and maintain a ‘shot list,’ which includes the theme, location, lighting information, prop information and any other specifics related to your upcoming shots. A shot list will help your photography in a few different ways. First, it will help you plan your upcoming shots, by forcing you to think through all of the photograph’s elements. Keeping a shot list will also cause you to view the world through your own photographic lens. You’ll find yourself on the lookout for new ideas, and will regularly pull out your phone (where my shot list is saved) to add new photo ideas. Finally, and most importantly, keeping a shot list will motivate you to get out and photograph more. It’s like a ‘honey-do’ list for yourself, and a shot that lingers for too long on the list will begin to bother you.

This image was on my ‘shot list’ for more than 3 weeks while I waited for the perfect rainy night

If you are eager to learn the art of photography, getting in front of the camera can provide a boost in your educational journey, and just may evolve into an enjoyable creative outlet.

Have you done any self-portraits? Please share in the comments below.

For more tips on doing self-portraits pick up the dPS ebook The Art of Self-Portraiture or read the 5 Benefits of a self-portrait project.


The post How Self-Portraiture Makes You a Better Photographer by Ryan Pendleton appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Meet The Photographers Who Write For Digital Photography School ~ Alex Smith

You’ve been reading their articles for months or years, have you ever wondered “Who are the photographers who write for dPS”? Today we meet Alex Smith, another of the newer writers brought on to dPS last year.

Boston Trip_043010_0352(sRGB-websize)

1.) How long have you been shooting?

I have been shooting for the past 7 years in some way, shape or form.

Self Portrait-17(sRGB-websize)2.) Do you have a full time job or are you a full time photographer?

Photography for me is a hobby that has gotten out of control. I am not a full time photographer and spend my days as a member of one of the scariest, most fear-inducing professions in the world. I work as a dentist.

3.) If you had to limit yourself to one genre of photography, what would it be and why?

This is a tough one. I really enjoy all aspects of photography and love to push myself into the different genres as I find I always learn something new. If I had to limit myself though, it would be to conceptual portrait/fashion photography. I love pushing my own creativity and it is a blast to come up with an idea and see it through to the final image. Not to mention you get to meet a lot of great people with which to collaborate and create.

4.) When did you start writing for dPS and why?

I am new to dPS as of Oct/Nov 2012. I applied to write for dPS because I feel that I have learned a great deal from the site. I wanted to be able to give back to the site by contributing and communicating what I have learned to others. Also, I hoped to be a good motivational factor and example for all the other self taught hobbyists out there that are working hard to learn photography.

5.) What do you shoot with and what’s your favorite lens?

I started with a Nikon D80 and moved to a Nikon D3s a few years ago. Really, my favorite lens is whatever is on my camera, but if forced to choose it is likely the Nikon 24-70 mm f/2.8. It is extremely versatile and I find that it is on my camera most of the time.

6.) What would be your number one tip to any new photographer?

My number one tip to anyone starting out in photography is not to let fear rule you. This is a craft and skill that takes time to learn and you should approach it as something that you will be continuously learning more about. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, try new things and get out of your comfort zone. You have to practice and make errors to get better and you can’t let all your blunders stand in the way of your progress. Just remember that all photographers start at the same point…the beginning. Don’t be ashamed of your skill or progress and just continue to work at areas you feel you need to improve.

7.) What’s your next big project?

Currently, I am working on a series of themed or conceptualized portraits in collaboration with a local make-up artist. I have been getting into more styling and planning with each shoot and am excited to see where these shoots are heading.

8.) Where can people go to find out more about you and your work?

You can find out plenty about me here on dPS and also at www.shutterhogs.com which is an ongoing project that I am trying to develop with a colleague. Also, I am on Twitter as @shutterhogs and my portfolio can be seen at 500px.com/alexsmith88.

Brittney Outdoors-34-Edit(sRGB-Websize)

Fire Creative Make-up-293(websize)

Denver Botanic Gardens-36(sRGB-websize)

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Image 7

St. Mary's Glacier HDR final (sRGB-websize dPS)

Shayla C-56 (sRGB-DPS)Websize


Katie Make-up-4(sRGB-websize)

Jenny Lake_Jun302010_0001(sRGB-websize dPS)

Mesa Falls-HDR(sRGB-websize)

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

Meet The Photographers Who Write For Digital Photography School ~ Alex Smith

Add Interest to your Background with Colored Gels

Colored gels are commonly used to balance flash color temperature with the color temperature of ambient light. But you can also use gels to add creative color effects to your photos.

Photo of a young boy dressed as a Japanese samurai

I recently shot this portrait of my son to commemorate his Shichi Go San (7-5-3) ceremony. Shichi Go San is a Japanese rite of passage performed at ages 3 and 7 for girls, and at age 5 for boys.

The background is a black piece of cloth, stretched across a Manfrotto background stand. To separate him from the background, and add visual interest, I used a single flash with a DIY blue gel to add some color to the background. In this article I’ll explain how to make your own gels, and how to use them. Lighting your background separately from your subject, with or without gels, is a great way to add depth to your photos and can help separate subjects from a dark background.

Here’s how it looks with only the background light:

Photo showing the use of a blue gel to tone a black background

First, an overview of the lighting setup for this shot:

Main Lights: 2 x Canon 430EX II Speedlites at full power, fired through 24″ Lastolite EZY-Box softboxes at camera left and right, just outside the frame.

Background Light: Single Canon 430EX II Speedlite in a snoot, with DIY blue gel, fired at the background from the right side of the set. I aimed this flash so that the hotspot would be centered behind my son’s head.

Exposure: 1/200, f/6.3, ISO 200
Lens: Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III

How to make your own DIY Gels

Any piece of thin colored plastic will work well. For the above photo I used two circles of plastic that I cut from a notebook cover. I purchased the notebook for 100 yen, or about USD $1.25. Experiment with different colors to find what works with your creative style, and for the particular photo you’re creating. For portrait work, I’m partial to cool tones, especially blues. Warm colors appear to pop out against cool colors, so a cool colored background works well to compliment skin tones.

In addition to the gel, you also need a snoot. A snoot narrows the light, and gives a spotlight effect. This keeps blue light from spilling all over the place. For this photo, I used a Gary Fong Powersnoot, because I already have one. But a piece of black poster board folded into a cylinder works just as well.

Photo showing steps to make colored flash gels

My 8-year-old daughter taped the blue plastic to the end of the snoot for me. If you don’t have an 8-year-old, see if you can borrow one from a friend or relative. Failing that, you can also tape the plastic onto the snoot yourself.

How much flash output?

So, how much flash do you need on the background to get a nice color effect? At first glance this may seem counterintuitive, but here’s the rule:

More flash = lighter color
Less flash = darker color

The reason for this is simple. The brighter your background flash, higher the luminosity of the color hitting the background will be.

So for a nice, deep blue like in this photo, you only need a little kiss of light from your flash. I powered a single 430EX II at 1/4 power for the background light, compared to two 430EX II’s at full power for the main lights. My background flash was about the same distance from the background as my main flashes were from the subject, so basically the light on the background is 4 stops weaker than the light on the subject. (1 flash @ 1/4 power on the background, 2 flashes @ full power on the subject.)

I hope this article has given you some ideas about how to make your own DIY flash gels from inexpensive materials, as well as how to use gels to add creative color effects to your photos. I’d love to hear from you, feel free to comment below or reach out to me on Google+ or Facebook.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

Add Interest to your Background with Colored Gels

Child Photography – Wardrobe Options for the Photographer

I learned quickly that the difference between a good session and a mind blower could just be a scarf. A hat. A glove. To me, wardrobe far surpasses location in importance. As a photographer, it’s natural to have a large (if not complete) say in the location of your session. But you have little to no control over wardrobe and if you get the sense that your client isn’t on the ball with trends and fashion or even aesthetics, this can totally ruin your session. You can’t pull off a gorgeous country chic location with kids in football jerseys. You just can’t. And your clients might not think about things like how a girl’s tights will look off if they’ve got a small pattern or words on them. The viewer is instantly distracted by trying to figure out what the pattern is. So I have these options for my clients:

  • At the very least, I talk to them about choice. I talk about patterns, large characters (Sorry Tigger no one wants you over their fireplace) and colours.
  • In the mid-range of options, I can come to their home (if I have the time in my schedule) to choose the wardrobe with them or ask them to bring many options to the session for me to choose then.
  • At the most (and most fun for me!) I offer my clients the option of paying me a retainer of £100 per child to acquire pieces to mesh with the vision for the session. You can either provide the cash leftover or put it towards a print credit and all the items are theirs to keep!

Some photographers email story-boards of combination options and outfits to show them what they mean by ‘layering’ and ‘contrasting patterns and textures’. This is by far the most tense portion of my job. Not knowing what they will show up with! Even with all the precautions in the world, I still bring a few pieces I’ve acquired on my own incase all else fails.

Good luck. It’s a jungle out there!

Post from: Digital Photography School