Thursday, March 8, 2012

Horizontal vs. Vertical

I've written before about the position in which I hold my camera when I'm out shooting on the street: the camera held vertically at mid-chest level, with my hands around the body and lens, and my finger on the shutter button. This automatically tends to lead to more vertical (portrait orientation) than horizontal (landscape) shots. As with anything in photography (or the arts ...... or, come to think of it, life ;-)) there's pluses and minuses for each, and there's always a tradeoff.

The first of these shots below was taken in a passageway at Grand Central Terminal. I was walking with my camera in my usual street shooting position, saw this great subject walking towards me, and fired off three frames as we passed. I had to do a little straightening of the image because the camera was on a slight angle when I shot, but otherwise the composition worked wonderfully well. The important element in this scene is that I captured the woman's entirety - head to toe. That's important here because the bent leg gives a feeling of forward motion and puts her in the forefront of all the other graphic elements in the image - the other people, the door behind her, and the kiosk to her right. It was also important for me to leave space on the left side of the image (the woman's right) to give her space to move into. Nothing disturbs me quite so much in an image such as this as to have this kind of motion implied with the person looking as if they were walking off the edge of the image and out of the frame. Using a wide angle lens to get a capture like this is critical because it creates a perceived depth of perspective. A longer focal length lens would flatten the perspective so that the door and people that appear to be way back in the distance would be flattened and look much more on the same plane as the woman and the kiosk.

In this next image, the horizontal orientation is important to create the scene unfolding around the gentleman in the foreground. I had to turn the camera to shoot this, and that simple motion attracted the attention of both men in the image. As long as I was found out, I held the camera out at arms length to get the lens as close to them as possible and fired the shutter. Obviously I did not capture either man's feet. That's not important here, but what is important is the basic rule of thumb that if you have to cut off part of a person's anatomy, do not do it at a joint - like a knee or ankle. That just makes the photo look like part of the subject's body was amputated. What was most important in this scene was to include a substantial amount of the street scene and dynamics as they unfolded - the traffic and the other pedestrians are much more part of the story here than in the previous image. The most important element is the facial expression of each of the two men, and the intensity of the eyes in each expression.


  1. really love these shots, and your own vision about them, which I fully support in every aspect.
    Great to be able to analyze your own photo's like a stranger would, and great to share this experience and knowledge for others to learn aspects of photography;
    Even if some will agree, at least they took the time to discover much more the photo and how their perception is about these options !
    Keep on

  2. the only thing I would seen improved, is the fact we could subscribe to your posts by simple email.

  3. Agree with you Gene, but sometimes - if you don't wanna be seen taking the shot - you have to take the horizontal shot with your camera hanging around your neck. That's the way I do. Because of that some of my photos ended in a square format like this one:
    because I have to crop it.

  4. Gene, great post. One thing I'd add to your selection of vertical vs horizontal. In each of the photographs the predominant lines in the scene support the choice. In the first you obviously see the vertical lines of the kiosk, the tall thin woman herself, and the vertical posts around the arch in the background.

    In the horizontal shot what jumps out at me is the mans belt, the horizontal lines across the cement, the line connecting the two headlights on the left. Great job as always.