To take a set of 20 images, framed both vertically (portrait) and horizontally (landscape), and compare the compositions to understand for the given subject whether one framing or another produces a better image or whether both formats work for the chosen subject.
For each of the picture groups below click on the pictures to see the larger pictures.
Group One – A misty morning in Norfolk
Taken early in the morning across the road from my folks house I tried both compositions for this shot. The horizontally framed shot was cropped in post-processing to a more letterbox style aspect ratio – removing ‘dead’ water in the foreground.
In this pair of image I think that both framing styles work but my personal preference is the horizontal framing.
Group Two – Giraffes at Whipsnade Zoo
These two images were taken while on a day out at Whipsnade. It was a personal exercise at the time to compare framing of a tall subject.
For a tall subject such as the vertical composition works better, giving a much clearer indication of the proportions of the subject.
Group Four – The London Eye
The following two images of The London Eye are near identical compositions but were actually taken horizontally and vertically. I’ve included this example as it shows how the near identical composition can produce quite different impact based on the aspect ratio.
Despite the similarity of the framing for me the horizontal works better aesthetically and is more dramatic. I think this is because it is perhaps an unexpected viewing angle while the vertical framing is more ‘typical’. Both do work though.
Group Four – Gazebos on the River Lee in Ware
The gazebos on the River Lee in Ware are a very well known landmark of the town and I’m lucky enough to walk past them every day on the way to work. These shots were taken on one such walk to work and show off gazebos beautifully.
Both of these shots work for me for different reasons. The horizontal framing show the subject in the larger context and allows a dynamic composition with the river leading from the lower right corner of the frame while the vertical composition suits the more detailed shot of the individual gazebo.
Group Five – Elephant’s trunk
Another pair of shots from Whipsnade Zoo – this time detailed shots of an elephant’s trunk as it’s feeding on grass.
This is a perfect example of how the subject is much better suited to vertical framing as oppossed to horizontal framing. The horizontal framing is fairly nondescript while the vertical frame perfectly suits the subject.
Group Six – Rainbow over Ware
This was a grab shot taken one evening as I arrived home. I looked out of the kitchen window, saw the rainbow, grabbed the camera and tried a number of different compositions.
This pair of images is a good example of horizontal framing working better than vertical. The church on the left gives balance to the rainbow on the right and the broader context of the view is shown. In the vertical framing this broader context is lost and the image just seems a little average.
Group Seven – Headland landscape
These shots were taken on my recent holiday to Pemborkeshire from one of the peaks on a headland by the coast.
For me both of the compositions work well. The horizontal framing is shows the much wider context of the headland and coastline while the vertical framing and wide angle lens used allows the inclusion of more foreground detail.
Group Eight – Decaying boat in Norfolk
Taken on a long weekend stay in Blakeney, Norfolk. A bitterly cold morning selected for the beautiful ‘golden hour’ light for the subject.
I’ve been unable to decide which of these I prefer since I shot them – both compsitions work well for me.
Group Nine – Clare on the rocks at Abermawr, Pemrokeshire
Another set from the recent holiday in Pembrokeshire. We decided to take the kids to the beach and watch the sunset. My primary objective was to get some long exposure shots of the surf (which I did) but at one point Clare was sitting in the rocks and made the perfect portrait subject
While both of these shots work for me I much prefer the horizontal framing. Cropped to a ‘letterbox’ frame, positioning Clare to the right of the frame looking out to the sunset throws the soft warm sunset light onto her and shows that while we can’t see the sunset, Clare’s pose looking out of the frame rather than at the camera, it was a sunset worth watching. The only issue I have with the shot is that the cliffs in the background cut right through Clare’s head. It’s one of those things that I really should have noticed at the time but didn’t so it just gives us a reason to go back again in the future to re-shoot the picture
Group Ten – Railway lines perspective
I wanted to include a ‘perspective’ series in this exercise and for me railway lines are a great example. Perhaps not the most interesting subject, but a good example of how perspective shots work in vertical and horizontal. These were taken with the Canon G10 on the way to work earlier this week. At least it was a bit foggy to add a bit of atmosphere to the shot.
The vertical framing clearly works better in these examples. The railway lines form a dynamic leading line from the lower right corner of the frame to the mid-upper left and give a clearer perspective without extraneous detail elsewhere in the picture that would distract from the shot.
Group Eleven – Gypsy Kings on stage
Last year I had teh good fortune to see the Gypsy Kings on stage at Kew Gardens. Of course I took the camera along to see if I could get some good pictures. The two shots presented here were taken almost one after the other.
I feel as if both of these compositions work – for different reasons. The horizontal shot gives a wider context to th artist while the vertical composition gives a closer single focus.
Group Twelve – Detail of decaying boat in Norfolk
From the day before the shots above were taken, these were taken standing inside the decaying boat to show more detail of the slow demise of the boat.
Both of these shots work for me as I had intended when I took them. The horizontal shot shows the wider context while the vertical shot allows a more detailed inspection of the effects of the boat’s decay.
Group Thirteen – Woodland pathway
As with the ralway line shots about, the plan with these shots was to illustrate perspective – the path disappearing into the distance. It is the same path but lit very differently as the sun appeared from behind the clouds bathing us in dappled light.
Unlike the railway line shots above, I think both of these examples work and I actually prefer the horizontal framing. This is due to the central positioning on the path – by using horizontal framing the full width of the path in the foreground appears to disappear more dramatically with perspective – even if the vertical framing is perhaps the more natural framing for a ‘long’ path shot.
Group Fourteen – The London Eye (again)
Taken in the same shoot as the above images I was again looking for a more abstract view of the London Eye than normal so was playing around with different compositions and the inclusion of other objects around the London Eye.
The objective with these picture, as I stated above, was to show a more abstract view of the London Eye. While both images do this I much prefer the composition of the horizontal shot. The light and sign included in the shot provide a nice balance to the main supporting superstructure of The Eye and the viewpoint is very different to most typical shots of this subject.
Group Fifteen – Looking up the River Lee
Taken a couple of weeks ago I was looking for a shot that not only showed perspective but also the river and it’s surroundings.
Of the pair I much prefer the horizontal framing. It shows the river in it’s broader context while the dominance of the river in the vertical framing I feel imbalances the pictures.
Group Sixteen – Fairground ride
Taken a couple of years ago, I was experimenting with hand-held longer exposures – the objective being at the time to see whether hand-holding and the resultant extra blur (over and above that introduced by the long exposure) would add extra dynamism to the shots.
Without doubt the better composition of these two is the horizontal framing. The subject fills the frame and the motion almost jumps out of the screen/off the page. The vertical shot, despite the movement seems somewhat lifeless as well as containing too much dead space above and below the subject.
Group Seventeen – Sailing boats
Looking up river from the sailing club in Norfolk with the Sony 70-200G and 2x teleconverter, my objective when shooting these was to compress the depth-of-field with the long focal length. I tried various framings – horizontal and vertical – to get the effect that I wanted.
I much prefer the horizontal framing of this subject. The composition is better with the position of the horizon (although the vertical shot could easily be fixed with cropping, doing so would chop some of the sails in half) and the spread of the sails across the frame. The compression of perspective by using the long focal length worked exactly as I had planned.
Group Eighteen – Backlit poopy
I love shooting single backlit flowers against a dark background. The translucence of the petals of poppies makes them an especially great subject for this kind of shot.
While the vertically framed shot is perhaps the most ‘natural’ framing for this subject with the tall stalk, I also like the horizontal framing – using the rule of thirds to position the flower in the frame gives a nice balance to the picture with the background stalks.
Group Nineteen – Prague Cathedral
Taken last year in Prague (a beautiful city by the way) my intention with these shots was to show the cathedral in a different context for each of the framing. The horizontal shot shows the wider context in the ‘old’ city with the cathedral and the palace while the vertical shot, bringing in the foreground below the cathedral, shows the elevation of the cathedral relative to the city.
I’m still unable after over a year to decide which of these prefer as both fulfil the objectives I had for the shots – as described above.
Group Twenty – Rugby penalties
I wanted to have a go at some sports shots so I went to the local rugby club in Hertford (just up the road) to see how I would get on. I really enjoyed the experience and should make more time to do some more.
The better composition (from this angle of view) of the penalty is definitely the horizontal framing. The framing gives the penalty a dynamism with the direction of flight of the ball. The vertical framing loses this dynamism. It’s worth noting here that photographing of a penalty from behind (especially if the posts are in the background) is much more effective as a vertical composition, as is the shooting of a line out looking right down the line of players. The framing needs to suit the subject as the action and positioning of the photographer dictates.
Conclusion drawn from this exercise
I’m conscious that I haven’t (as yet) included all twenty sets of shots in this post. From the shots presented though we can clearly see that both horizontal and vertical compostions can work very well.
For some subjects one framing style produces a better image while for others both horizontal and vertical framing work very well.