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The Thing About Vertical Photography

person taking photo of gray tower

There are a lot of good things to say about Instagram. For one thing, it’s given us all the opportunity to share our daily lives and form a photography-oriented community. This seems like the norm in 2024, but cast your mind back 14 years ago and this was still a new, exciting thing that worked to unite photography enthusiasts around the world. 

Secondly, it’s given us a quick, easy way to turn our photograph portfolios into real, physical albums. All you have to do is post your images on the site, choose the ones you like best, and you can create a photo book in 2 clicks.

But while Instagram is a perfect social network for us photographers, it has come with a cost. That is the rise of vertical photography. With nearly everyone using their smartphones as their primary camera, it’s become a lot easier to take photos vertically rather than horizontally. Not to mention, the format of Instagram practically invites vertical photography, leaving the individual to make the decision without steering them one way or the other.

The (Artistic?) Decision to Shoot Vertically

Whether you think this is a ‘cost’, however, depends entirely on who you are. There are plenty of photographers out there who hate vertical photography, but there are plenty of others who don’t really care – so long as the photograph is good, who gives a darn if it’s on the thin and narrow side? 

But it must be said that the reason for the former’s dissatisfaction does make sense. Most of the time, the choice to shoot vertically is not an artistic decision, but a decision based on convenience. When we go to take a picture, we remove our phones from our pockets and shoot, and with Androids and iPhones seemingly getting bigger every year, it has become more of a chore to take pictures with both hands. This means that plenty of photographs that should be landscape, artistically, end up being shot vertically simply because it’s easier. 

We’re not trying to sound snobby – we’re all guilty of this – but it’s important to remember how crucial the framing of a photograph can be. Horizontal and vertical images, historically, have been chopped and changed to elicit different emotions. While a landscape photograph can evoke feelings of calmness, tranquillity, and serenity, a vertical image can evoke feelings of strength, power, and stability. When we choose to shoot vertically simply because it’s easier, we’re ignoring the benefactors of the frame and potentially lessening the photograph as a result.

Giving Thought to the Process

The last thing we want to do here is tell you how to shoot a photograph. The rules of photography are there to be broken, and as always, guidance on any form of art should always be taken with a pinch of salt. You might have very definitive reasons for erring toward one or the other, but the point we’re trying to make is that you should have definitive reasons. 

The choice of shooting vertically or in landscape should be made with the subject, composition, mood, and context in mind. For instance, if you’re taking a photograph of a fellow human being, then vertical photography can be a great way to match their shape and orientation, working to get more of them into the frame. As well as this, a vertical photograph can amplify their features – strength, individualism, fragility, amongst plenty of others – which will subsequently have more of an impact on the viewer. 

Even landscape photography doesn’t have to be shot in landscape! For instance, you might want to create a juxtapositional image with the sky and the subject – with more of the sky filling the frame to evoke a sense of drama and spectacle. This can be done in landscape, but more importantly, it might be more impactful done vertically. The point is that you’ve taken your subject and idea into account, and you’re snapping a picture that works with your vision.

Final Thoughts

It’s worth remembering that the world is not a frame. Only your smartphone camera is a frame, and that means you’re always making compromises no matter whether you’re shooting vertically or in landscape. But before you snap your next picture for Instagram or to upload to our photo book maker, think about the composition you’re trying to emphasise. What’s the mood you’re trying to strike? What messages do you want to give to your audience? 

If you think a little more deeply about these things, you might even find yourself taking vertical photos that you thought should be landscape, and vice versa. But in both instances, you’ll be elevating the quality of your image. Remember, the frame itself plays a massive part in making a photograph work, so don’t leave it out of your thought process, and certainly don’t choose one or the other based on speed or convenience!


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