Creative Photo Design: Horizontal Vs. Vertical

by Kerry Drager

Delaney - vertical
Delaney - vertical
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved
Switching formats is a strikingly easy - and low-tech! - way to beef up and vary your compositions. However, this isnít an intuitive act. Imagining an image both vertically (portrait format) and horizontally (landscape format) requires a conscious effort. It may even mean a little sticky note applied to the back of your camera or on your bag that reads Think Vertical! Think Horizontal!

So how do you decide? The choice depends on visual concerns (which way appears best to you in the viewfinder) and informational aspects (what elements you wish to include in your composition). In general, horizontal framing stresses a subject or sceneís width, while vertical framing emphasizes its height.

Sometimes a simple shift of the camera from a horizontal to vertical position, or vice versa, can solve a design dilemma. For example, if a horizontal format shows too many distracting elements on the sides or in the background, then a flip of the camera might quickly and definitively "clean up" the composition.

Delaney - horizontal
Delaney - horizontal
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved
Be on the lookout for creative exceptions. For instance, a tall subject in an eye-grabbing scene might work in a horizontal format, or a "wide" subject might look great if tightly composed in a vertical format.

Still not sure? Experiment. For instance, even if your first thought is to shoot a vertical or portrait format, take a look at a horizontal or landscape orientation. Sometimes your subject may fit equally well into both vertical and horizontal orientations. Regularly rotating your camera not only adds variety to your work, but it also serves this purpose: When shooting for a print or online publication, or for stock agencies, photo editors will appreciate the extra choices.


Lighthouse - horizontal
Lighthouse - horizontal
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved

About the photos

People portraits and lighthouse towers almost "demand" a vertical treatment, though not necessarily. For the accompanying images of my 6-month-old granddaughter Delaney and an Oregon Coast lighthouse, I came up with horizontal interpretations that I also liked.

As for light, the Delaney pictures were photographed indoors with indirect window light - as opposed to direct sunlight (usually harsh and contrasty) that enters through a window. The Yaquina Head Lighthouse was captured at sunrise, just as the warm sunlight hit the tower.

Note: Click on each photo to see the enlarged image, along with the exposure settings.


Lighthouse - vertical
Lighthouse - vertical
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved

Like these ideas?

Then don't miss Kerry Drager's online photo course: Creative Light and Composition. Plus, be sure to catch his how-to books co-authored with Jim Miotke:



About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Kerry Drager
Photography Instructor: Kerry Drager
Kerry Drager is a professional photographer, teacher and writer who is also the co-author of two books: The BetterPhoto Guide to Creative Digital Photography and The BetterPhoto Guide to Photographing Light. He has taught many photography courses (online and in person), seminars and field workshops.

Be sure to check out Kerry's website - www.kerrydrager.com.

Also, he is the author of Scenic Photography 101, the photographer of the photo-essay books The Golden Dream: California from Gold Rush to Statehood and California Desert , a contributor to the books BetterPhoto Basics and Daybreak 2000, and a co-photographer of Portrait of California. In addition, Kerry was profiled in the April 1994 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine and in Vik Orenstein's 2010 book The Photographer's Market Guide to Building Your Photography Business, and his website was showcased in the January 2003 issue of Shutterbug magazine. Plus, his work has appeared in magazines, Hallmark cards and Sierra Club calendars, and in advertising campaigns for American Express and Sinar Bron Imaging.

Also follow Kerry on Facebook, where he posts photos several times a week that include shooting tips and thoughts.

Kerry lives with his wife, Mary, on California's Central Coast, with their three Newfoundland dogs, four cats, and a mixed terrier.