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There are two types of modes traditionally used for photography. Portrait mode and Landscape mode.
What is the Origin of the Distinction?
The distinction between portrait and landscape images stretches back in antiquity and emerged as a tradition from the field of painting and was designated by the sizes of canvas that artists used. Artists would either place their canvas on its side to create a landscape or standing upright to create a portrait. Portrait and Landscape mode is different from portrait and landscape photography.
Over time it was generally found that paintings of outdoor and natural landscape scenery usually came out better with a wider canvas than it was tall. It also became the custom to paint people’s portraits with more height than width on the canvas. These became near universal conventions and although sometime artists would consciously break these ‘rules’ for the most part they have stayed with us.
What are the differences between Portrait and Landscape Modes/Orientation?
The differences are as follows:
- The portrait mode will produce a photograph that has a longer height than the width of the photo. A standard ratio for the image would be 6:4, (3:2). This means that the width of the image will be ⅔ of the height of the image. This is known as the Aspect Ratio of the image.
- Portrait mode is commonly used and most mobile phones are set in a portrait mode orientation.
- Landscape mode is an orientation where the width of the image is longer than the height. An example of a landscape mode orientated Aspect Ratio would be 2:3.
- Most cameras will come in a landscape mode as their default and when you watch a TV the video you are watching is in a landscape mode orientation.
Which mode is better? Portrait or Landscape.
Every photographer has preferences and sometimes you are forced to select a mode based on circumstances.
When to use Landscape Mode.
- Generally speaking the landscape mode is better for picturing scenery, natural views and of course, landscapes in general! However, as with all art, some of the greats have deliberately bucked this trend including Annie Leibovitz who often took portrait photographs in a landscape mode.
- The reason that people use the landscape mode is often to highlight the horizon which will cut across the widest point of the image. When this is combined with clever use of the ‘rule of thirds’ you can create some stunning images.
When to use Portrait Mode.
- As the name suggests this mode is most commonly utilized for taking portraits of people, animals and even buildings! The human form is more closely orientated to the portrait mode dimensions and so you can capture a fuller image of somebody in this way with the person dominating the photo. In this way the photographer is able to make use of the entire photo to portray the details of their subject.
- However this mode is also great for urban photography where you are trying to capture the essence of the city’s skyline or a view down a busy street giving the image a good sense of depth and movement.
What should you choose? Portrait or Landscape?
There are several main factors that you should keep in mind when you are deciding whether to use a landscape or portrait mode to best capture the subject of your photo.
Make the most use of the space and fit the subject into the frame.
This is extremely important and unless you are consciously trying to make use of negative space then fitting as much of the subject as you can into the frame will usually be the best idea. So for example, a photo of a person will fit best into a portrait mode photo, as would a waterfall, tall buildings and trees.
Conversely, for images which are dominated by horizontal lines such as a wide panorama, a seascape or sunset photography, then the landscape mode will best capture the essence of your subjects.
What emphasis do you want in the finished product?
Try to make use of the different modes, landscape or portrait, to emphasize the crucial elements in your photo. Portrait mode will emphasize the verticals in the image whilst a landscape will emphasize the horizontals. For this reason, sometimes breaking the ‘rules’ will yield better results, for instance, a portrait mode landscape photo will bring out the height of the scene and can create a powerful sense of depth or movement such as in high rise photography. Alternatively, a landscape mode photo of a person can help to bring out the fragility of our lives within the wider context of the world.
Changing from Portrait to Landscape and Landscape to Portrait.
With certain limitations you can change a portrait photo to landscape and landscape to portrait. With the amazing range of modern post production software you can always crop the image after you have shot it. This means that if you think the picture is perfect but should have been done in a different mode you can simply crop it to create the image you had envisioned!
Summary: Portrait or Landscape Mode?
When you’re deciding whether to use the portrait or landscape mode when taking a photograph there will be a lot going through your mind and although there is plenty of good advice out there, at the end of the day it’s going to be up to you!
Follow your inner instincts for a good shot and remember what you are trying to communicate and then trust your own decision and go with it! Also, remember that you will sometimes be forced to pick a mode depending on the circumstances. I have a slight preference towards taking photos in the landscape mode. But increasingly I find myself taking photos in the portrait mode for two reasons. Photos taken in the portrait mode tend to look better on Instagram. I also happen to live in downtown (Center City) Philadelphia. There are tall buildings all around me. This type of environment is better suited for portrait mode photography.
If you remain unsure you can always take a photo of the same scene in both landscape and portrait modes and then compare them afterwards. This can be especially helpful if you are a beginner or just starting out as this will help you get a better sense of what each different mode will bring to the table in your photography.
Do you have a preferred mode for shooting photographs?