Here’s a simple tip that we haven’t talked much about: when you find yourself struggling to get a photo you like, try shooting vertically. I was once told by a photography instructor that roughly 85% of all photos taken around the world are taken horizontally. By this, I mean the widest side goes left to right and the narrower side goes up and down, like this:
I can’t verify the statistic (I don’t even know how anyone would know that), but it is definitely true that the majority of the time, photos you see posted were shot in the horizontal (or landscape) camera position. It’s pretty fascinating to take the same scene and look at it through a vertical frame. Let’s compare these two photos:
These were both shot using the iPhone 4S with the Pro HDR app. Notice how different the two photos look. The horizontal framing cuts out the rocks in the foreground and puts the emphasis on the sky and the reflection of the sky in the water, putting the bridge mostly into silhouette. By going vertical (and shooting from a slightly different position), I was able to include the rocks in the foreground and expose for them, which also allows the details of the bridge to show.
Each photo has its own merits and each has its own deficits. Which one you like better is a matter of taste. But the point is that, in spite of these being of the same subject about 2 minutes apart, they look completely different. That’s the beauty of changing the shape of the lens you look through–it gives you a whole new way of seeing.
In addition to giving you an option on how to look at the world, sometimes subjects just work better vertically. For example, most portraits of one person work better shot vertically if you just want the person in the frame. Dogs also often look better vertically when you want a photo of just their face. (Check out Lesson 3 for an example of how shooting vertically let’s you get tight on a canine subject.) And, of course, shooting tall, narrow subjects vertically allow you to eliminate empty background space.
Your Assignment: For the next few days, every time you pull out your iPhone to take a picture, take one vertically, too. Compare the horizontal and vertical framing to get a sense for what works well vertically. Many subjects work equally well horizontally and vertically, but give you completely different looks. Did you get anything you really like?