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For as long as photography exists, there will always be a debate surrounding whether portrait or landscape is better than the other. As part of that debate, there will arguments put forward that do not really stand up to scrutiny, but there will be others, which are very relevant.
In this article, we will seek to give you the main advantages of each, and some guidance on when to use portrait or landscape
Portrait vs Landscape Photo: The Basics
We are not going to assume everyone reading is an experienced photographer, therefore, we know that there will be those who genuinely think portrait refers to someone sitting and posing for a photograph and that a landscape photograph is an image of a beautiful countryside scene.
The words portrait and landscape can correctly define both of those scenarios, but that is not the context in which they are being used here.
For our purposes, the terms portrait and landscape, actually refer to the orientation of a photograph.
Specifically, portrait means that the image is orientated such that the vertical dimensions of the image are greater than the horizontal dimensions.
Conversely, a landscape photograph has longer horizontal dimensions than it does vertically.
The ratio of the dimensions in either portrait or landscape will normally be any one of 16:9, 6:4 or 4:3. If you think you may have of those ratios before that before, it could be because the ratio on your widescreen television at home is 16:9, and older TVs were 4:3.
Specifically, modern televisions will invariably have a landscape screen as opposed to a portrait. Many people use the familiarity of their TV screen as a way of remembering that landscape is horizontal.
General Principle of Choosing Either Portrait or Landscape
One of the primary goals you should for almost all the photographs that you take is that the subject fits entirely into the frame of the image and do so in order to make the visual appeal as great as possible.
There will be many scenes where you have to make the decision about what you want to include and what you are happy to exclude, and this will influence your choice of orientation.
Why You Would Use Portrait
When the subject of your photograph is something which vertical, tall, or standing upright, these are all situations where portrait orientation is likely to be the preference.
Common subjects that would come in this category would be tall buildings, a person standing upright, a tree, a tall animal or an object whose dimensions are greater vertically than horizontally.
Obviously, when you take a photograph in portrait mode, you are choosing to exclude people or things that may be to the left or to the right of the subject. If this is not going to be to the detriment of your image, then that is fine.
However, you may wish to consider if anything either side of a subject will increase the context, add to the composition in terms of color, or simply make the photograph more interesting.
Why You Would Use Landscape
There is a misconception that landscape photographs are more suitable for images of nature, and should not be used for images of individuals or 'portraits.'
However, this is not the case, and there are many professional photographers who shoot all their images of a person or people in landscape mode.
The advantage of this can be as simple as that in the modern world, most display equipment, such as tablets, photo viewers or computer display screens are oriented in landscape anyway, and thus the image will fill the screen perfectly.
Landscape also gives you the opportunity to add increased context such as showing more of the background, be that decor in the room or the skyline of the city behind the subject.
Landscape photography also allows for greater storytelling in an image given that it is capturing everything across the horizon of a shot. In most cases, although not all, there is more likely to be something interesting next to someone than above their head.
It's Your Decision
Although we have looked at some specific scenarios, we should just remind you that as photography is a very individualistic activity, and at its finest, is an art form, so there is nothing to say that you have to follow every rule.
There may be many valid reasons for using one orientation or the other, but you have every right to use the alternative.
Ultimately, you should be attempting to take the very best photographs you can, and orientation is just one of several choices you will make, that will influence that.