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Professional Landscape Photography Tips - Shooting Landscapes in Vertical / Portrait Format

Talking about formats, let’s first clear the air about what do we mean when we say vertical/portrait or horizontal/landscape. In photography, 'portrait' is a vertical rectangle and 'landscape' is a horizontal rectangle period.

Most novice photographers shoot majority of their pictures in landscape format for the simple reason that they are used to holding the camera horizontally. But as is the case with many other forms of ART; in photography there are no hard and fast rules regarding composition. There is no reason why a landscape should not be shot in portrait format or a portrait should not be shot in landscape format.  It’s all about choices; in fact photography is all about choices, right from the start you have to make many choices regarding the focal length, shooting angle, aperture/depth of field, shutter speed/motion etc.

 Tips for Shooting Landscapes in Vertical Format
Photo by: Kenny Teo

Deciding whether to shoot in vertical or horizontal orientation is yet another choice, a rather important one. It has much to do with your composition technique; the orientation chosen should be able to frame the subject/scene at hand in a visually interesting way, including elements that add to the value of the picture and excluding ones that do not. When you choose between either one of the format you are making a decision as to what is best for your subject/scene and what you want to keep in the photo and what you don’t.

Shooting in Both Vertical and Horizontal Formats

You can shoot the same subject in both orientations; but you can never shoot the exact same picture in vertical and horizontal formats. They need to be composed differently. Deliberately shooting a subject/scene in both vertical and horizontal formats can be a very useful exercise in simulating your creative talents especially in situations where one format seems a very obvious choice than the other.

Tips For Shooting Landscapes in Vertical / Portrait Format

how to photograph landscapes in portrait format
Photo by: Sergiu Bacioiu

Sometimes Landscapes look better in vertical format than in horizontal format, it could be due to the unique characteristics of the various elements that make up the landscape or due to the unique characteristics of the vertical image format. Here are some quick tips to get you started in vertical landscape photography.

1. Break Down Your Composition Into Three Quarters

One trick to make sure your vertical landscape pictures work is to divide the entire frame into three equal quarters, the foreground, midground and the background (just like the rule of thirds grid) and make sure you have some interesting element present in all three quarters.

2. Get Close to the foreground element and Shoot from a Low Angle

tips for shooting landscapes in portrait format
Photo by: Dave Toussaint

In the previous tip we have mentioned the importance of having one interesting element in all three quarters. Now when you compose your frame, get as close to the foreground element of interest as possible and shoot from a very low angle. This accentuates the visual weight of foreground element and any leading lines present in the composition thus making your picture interesting. You should set the focus at the foreground element (which should ideally be at the hyper focal distance) and use a narrow aperture so as to get a large enough depth of field to render everything in the frame acceptably sharp.  A tripod which can be set to very low angles (preferably one without a center column) could come in handy during such situations.

3. Shoot from a High Angle with Camera Tilted Down

vertical landscape photography
Photo by: Pavel P

This technique works well when shooting vertical landscapes with an ultra wide angle lens. Raise your tripod high above the subject and tilt the camera downwards, the perspective distortion thus caused gives more emphasis to the foreground elements all the while including a full sweep of the vast landscape in the frame.

4. Use Rule of Thirds as a guide to Place the Horizon

rule of thirds in landscape photography
Photo by: Jens Ceder

The rule of thirds gird could be used as a guideline to place your horizon while shooting landscapes in vertical format. In most cases better results are achieved by placing the horizon in line with either the top or bottom grid line. The choice of which one to choose should be based purely on what works well for the scene, the mood you wish to covey to the viewer and whether you have an interesting sky or not in your scene. In majority cases it works better than placing the horizon dead in the center of the frame. But if you are looking for symmetry (trying to capture reflections in water etc.) then placing the horizon line in the center such that it divides the frame into two equal parts could work well.

5. Make Use of Negative Space

Leaving some empty space on the top of your picture (usually the area covered by the sky) could work well to simplify your composition and to direct the viewers’ attention directly to the lower part of the image. It could also work well in a commercial point of view as graphic designers love empty spaces which allows them the flexibility to pop a photo caption onto an image, reverse out a headline, run body copy around an interesting shape, or even drop in a text box.

6. Shoot Vertical Landscapes with a Telephoto Lens

A telephoto lens makes background elements appear larger in comparison to the foreground elements. Thus it compresses the perspective, making objects that are in reality far apart from each other appearing as if they are closely stacked together. This compression of perspective makes them ideal tool for capturing vertical landscapes especially scenes that comprise of subjects at different distances and heights like mountains. Read more on this here - Using Telephoto Lenses for Shooting Landscapes.

7. Use the Tripod Mount on your Lens

If you are shooting landscapes using a telephoto lens, chances are the telephoto lens will feature a tripod mount. If so use it to attach the lens and camera to the tripod, this way you have the flexibility to keep the tripod head in normal position and just loosen and turn the camera to shoot vertical. Thus making sure the center of gravity stays where it is supposed to be.

8. Invest in an L-Bracket

landscape photography tips
Photo by: Iñaki Bolumburu

If you shoot frequently in vertical orientation, it is a good idea to invest in an L Bracket. An L bracket is an L shaped plate used to mount the camera on a tripod. It allows easy switching from horizontal to vertical format without tilting the tripod head ensuring better stability.

9. Invest in a Battery Grip

Battery grip also known as vertical grips is a very useful accessory if you shoot a lot of vertical shots.  Battery Grips have a lot of advantages. It allows you to load a choice of one or two battery packs thus doubling the battery life. This is especially useful when shooting videos or using Live View mode that use more power. In addition, with the included battery magazine, you can also run the camera off six AA batteries. It also provides full vertical shooting controls to enhance camera handling, especially for shooting vertical pictures. It has a large number of operating controls as well: shutter button, Main Dial, multi-controller, AF point selection button, AE lock/FE lock button, AF start button, and multi-function button.

10. Shoot Vertical Panoramas

vertical panorma
Photo by: Bossi

Yes panoramas could also be vertical; you shoot a vertical panorama by shooting a series of shots in the landscape orientation starting from low to high and stitching them together in software during post production.

If you are not already doing so, make a habit of shooting scenes in both vertical and horizontal formats. And do post some of your interesting verticals in the comments below.
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