Portrait Vs. Landscape In Photography

Before you snap a photo, there is one key decision you need to make for the orientation of your image. Choosing between a portrait or landscape orientation can make a pretty big difference in your final photo. Each format has its own advantages and proves more useful in certain situations than others. What’s most important is to recognize the difference between a portrait and landscape orientation in your photography. To learn how to use them purposefully to enhance the composition of your images.

This article shares everything you need to know about portrait vs. landscape photos and what is best for your photography. Here you’ll learn the practical uses of each, how to be more intentional with the orientation of your images, and more!

What Is The Difference Between Portrait And Landscape Orientation?

There are actually a few different things that someone could mean when they say ‘portrait or landscape’. Portrait and landscape are a photography genre, camera mode, and image orientation all at once! In this section, let’s focus on image orientation.

Now obviously, you can tell the difference between an image of a person (portrait) and a shot of a vista (landscape). So what does it mean when someone asks for you to shoot the photo in portrait or landscape?

Portrait and landscape are most commonly used to describe the orientation of a photo. So when you hear the words portrait or landscape format, we aren’t talking about what’s in the photo. We’re talking about how the picture is oriented!

Portrait orientation is when the image is taller than it is wide. This is useful to help capture more of a scene vertically but doesn’t work as well to fit everything into the frame. Landscape orientation is when the image is wider than it is tall. Landscape format is best to fit more into view and give a perspective closer to what the eye sees.

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Portrait Or Landscape – What Is Best?

When trying to decide whether portrait or landscape orientation is best for your photography, there really is no clear answer. Each type will prove more useful, depending on the scene and subject you are shooting.

Just because you are taking a photo of a person, doesn’t mean you need to use portrait orientation. The way you choose to orient your image should be used to help your composition, regardless of the subject. Think of using portrait or landscape as another element of composition to decide on before you take a photo.

Depending on the way you choose to orient your image, there are a few advantages you can find. When shooting in landscape, you can capture a wider field of view that feels more natural to the eye. The landscape orientation is a great way to showcase an entire scene or create a more cinematic feel to your portraits.

Using the portrait orientation is a great way to capture more vertically. For example, taking photos of architecture, or a waterfall are scenarios when a portrait orientation is useful. When used with a wide-angle lens, the portrait orientation can create awesome effects in landscape photography. It allows you to draw more attention to the foreground while still incorporating the rest of the scene.

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There really is no set answer as to whether portrait or landscape orientation is best for your photos. Rather than trying to choose one as a be-all-end-all, consider which photo orientation best compliments the composition you’re going for. There really is no ‘wrong’ way to orient your images.

Why Is It Called Portrait And Landscape Orientation?

Think of yourself painting a picture on a canvas. If you were to paint a picture of a wide-open vista, you’d likely want to paint on a wider canvas. Since you want to naturally match the view you see with your eyes, a wide canvas best suits your creative vision. That’s why paintings of landscapes or beautiful views are typically painted on wider canvases. When your eyes are focused far away, you are looking at a wider field of view. This naturally suits a landscape orientation better when it comes to capturing an image.

Now when it comes to looking at someone, your eyes shift focus, and everything becomes blurry except for them. Your eyes naturally isolate the point of interest, and your field of view becomes narrowed. Artists have always taken note of this and tend to paint people and figures onto a tall canvas. The narrower field of view isolates the subject and fits the natural dimensions of their body best.

So the terms portrait and landscape orientation are based around the work of artists over the years. We all share a similar inclination to how a scene should be displayed based on how we see it. If your eyes are focused further away, it’s likely a landscape orientation will be a natural fit for your image. If you want to isolate your subject or make it feel larger, a portrait orientation will likely work best.

Cropping Your Photos Into Portrait Or Landscape Format

Many people like to change their minds about how a photo is oriented after they take it. A little crop never hurt nobody, right? The truth is it’s actually not the best idea to crop your photo into a new orientation. Here’s why.

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When you take an image, it will be at its highest resolution. However, as you crop an image, it begins to lose resolution. As you increase your crop, you’re basically throwing a section of pixels in the garbage and saying good riddance. So the moral of the story is that the more you crop, the less resolution your image has. If you were to change the orientation of your photo just by cropping, you’d be cutting out a significant chunk of your image. The result would be a significant loss in resolution and a lower quality photo.

Besides quality loss, cropping can take away from the creative aspects of an image. The unique looks created by the focal length or depth of field cannot be replicated by cropping. There’s a significant difference in how your photo will look in-camera versus cropping to your desired frame.

That’s why it’s so important to make sure you choose the right photo orientation in camera. The last thing you want to do is try to make the switch in post. It’s just not a good idea.

Situations When A Certain Image Orientation Is Required

If you’re just taking photos for yourself, it won’t matter whether you use the portrait or landscape orientation. That begins to change when you capture photos for a specific purpose like social media or promotional content. Different clients may require images for a specific need, so choosing the best orientation becomes essential.

For example, if you were trying to capture content for a website banner or page header, a landscape orientation is going to work best. Since the image will be displayed in a landscape format, the image must match.

Now, if the images are meant for something like Instagram, a portrait orientation would work best. Since portrait format takes up more real estate on the Instagram feed, it’s become a must to gain more traction on your post. If you’re taking photos for a brand or for self-promotion, this is an important tactic to consider.

If you are using an image for a specific purpose, be sure to choose a format that best suits where your image will end up!

Portrait vs. Landscape As A Photography Genre

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Besides the way your photo is formatted, portrait, or landscape is also a type of photography genre. Although relatively self-explanatory, portrait photography is any image of a person. Whether it’s a picture of a group or of a single subject, it still falls under the category of portraiture. Portrait photography is used for a wide array of purposes. Things such as:

  • Fashion
  • Family Photos
  • Events
  • Business Headshots
  • Personal Use

and more! Portraits are meant to showcase a person rather than an environment. The point of interest is extremely specific, and there’s usually a shallow depth of field to help separate them from the background.

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Landscape photography as a genre is a photo of a grand vista or beautiful view. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in a city or the high alpine. If it’s of a view, it’s considered a landscape photo. Landscape photography is fantastic to capture destination images for travel or hiking. This genre of photography is commonly used in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Prints
  • Website Backgrounds Or Headers
  • Travel And Hiking Guides
  • To Capture Memories Of An Epic Vista

And more! Landscape photos are all about capturing the environment. The ultimate goal of this photography genre is to make your audience feel like they were there. To give them the feeling like they were standing where your camera was. Be sure to check out these 10 tips to improve your landscape photography if you want to improve in this genre!

Portrait And Landscape As Camera Modes

portrait mode on beginner camera

The third and final thing that portrait and landscape reference are camera modes. Camera modes are a setting to control how your camera takes a photo. There are a handful of different camera modes to use on all cameras. You can learn about the best camera modes for beginners in my guide to beginner camera settings.

Under the scene modes on your camera, you’ll find Portrait and Landscape modes. Each one is an automatic camera mode that manipulates your settings to better suit a certain style of image.

– Portrait Mode:

Portrait mode is an automatic camera mode used to capture photos of people. It favors a wide aperture to create a more shallow depth of field. By creating a more blurred background, your subject will stand out better, compared to other camera modes.

– Landscape Mode: 

Landscape mode is another automatic mode but favors a smaller aperture. With a smaller aperture, you increase the depth of field, and more will be in focus at once. This is useful for taking images of an overall environment since you want everything to be in focus.

If you aren’t using manual mode, these scene modes are great for adding a more professional look to an image. However, it’s important to break away from relying on fully automatic settings as quickly as possible. When you just rely on automatic, it’s slower to learn your camera settings and how they work. Since you’re letting the camera do all the work, you don’t have as much creative input on your images.

Luckily, there are a few semi-automatic camera modes that can help you take back your creativity. Click here to learn about the best camera modes for beginner photographers!

Conclusion

So when you’re talking about portrait or landscape in photography, it could mean a variety of things. From how your photo is oriented, the style of photo, or the camera mode you are using. All of these mean these fall under the same umbrella of ‘portrait vs. landscape,’ so it’s important to remember each of them!

In terms of photo orientation, try to think of landscape or portrait as a tool of composition. There is no clear answer to which is best, but one may suit a specific photo more than the other. As you practice more with your photography, you’ll develop a sense of which is best in any image you take.

Landscape and portrait photography are both fantastic genres, perfect for challenging your skills. Each has its own subtleties that make mastering the genre an extreme (but fun) challenge. There is always something to learn with these genres of photography! To get yourself started, be sure to check out these 10 tips for better landscape photos.

Finally, portrait and landscape modes on your camera are an easy way to enhance your photos. Rather than the basic automatic mode, these scene modes further refine your settings to better suit the style you’re going for. Try to experiment with each and see the difference they make! With that said, it’s super beneficial to step away from fully automatic modes as a beginner. Having to choose settings on your own helps you to visually see the changes each setting makes. Be sure to check out my ultimate guide to camera settings for beginners to get yourself started!

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