Portrait vs Landscape

Portrait vs Landscape | What’s the Difference?

Last Updated on December 28, 2021 | In Rules of Composition by Stefano Caioni Leave a Comment

Portrait vs Landscape in photography can have different meanings.

If you have been struggling with the concept of portrait vs. landscape, this post is meant for you.

Whether you are an amateur photographer or an expert, you might be probably familiar with these terms. But have you ever stopped for a second to think about it more deeply?

If you do so, you will find that they conceal several different meanings.

These two words are commonly used in photography to describe various aspects of an image or page orientation. 

Portrait vs landscape can be used to refer to the page orientation of a photograph. It can be used to describe the genre of photography or the camera mode that is used when taking a picture. In some cases, these definitions may overlap. For example, a portrait can be shot in landscape mode, or a landscape photograph can be captured in portrait mode.

lanscape photo

As a budding photographer, therefore, you need to understand these terms. With time you’ll master how they are applied in the art of photography.

Gaining a better comprehension of portrait vs landscape will greatly improve your skill as a photographer. This will open up new channels for your creativity.

I’m going to demystify these concepts to help you gain a grasp of how they are applied in general. Then we’ll see how you can employ them in your own photography practice.

If you scroll down you’ll find an entertaining video with a photography challenge between a portrait vs landscape photographer.

Portrait vs Landscape: Page Orientation

The terms landscape and portrait are commonly used to refer to the orientation of a page or image.

The particular usage of these terms is not limited to photography. As a matter of fact, portrait vs landscape is used when printing documents. It’s used in printing to refer to the horizontal or vertical orientation of a page.

landscape photo in portrait orientation

When it comes to image orientation, the term landscape is used in relation to an image that is wider than taller. In other words, it is an image that is captured in a horizontal layout.

On the other hand, a portrait refers to an image that is taller than it is wide. This means that it is shot in a vertical layout

While there are no fixed rules when it comes to portrait vs. landscape orientation, there are several factors that can help you determine the best orientation. This changes from subject to subject.

These include the dimensions of the subject, cropping, and presentation. Keep in mind that the image format you choose will impact the way in which your viewers perceive your image.

It is therefore important to carefully think about the effect or result you intend to achieve. This will help you make an informed choice when composing your images.

An object that is too wide to fit in a vertical composition will require a landscape orientation.

Read also our recent article: Shooting horizontal vs vertical images

Boat, Portrait vs Landscape

Sometimes a very similar object, such as this boat, under completely different light and from a different point of view, will require a portrait orientation.

For a detailed description of landscape vs portrait as page orientation check the Wikipedia article here.

Boat, Portrait orientation

Portrait vs Landscape as Genre

The terms portrait vs landscape are also used to describe particular genres of photography. When these words are used in this context, the page orientation of the image doesn’t matter much.

Basically, portrait photography is a genre that involves creating pictures of human subjects. The purpose of portrait photography is to capture the personality or disposition of the subject using effective lighting.

Portrait of a woman

This genre has existed for a very long time and remains very popular today. Many photographers employ modern technologies to shoot subjects in controlled environments such as photo studios. 

Landscape photography, on the other hand, is a genre that focuses on capturing inanimate subjects in the wider world. Some of the most popular subjects in this genre of photography include mountains, lakes, forests, city skylines, and other sceneries.

Portrait vs Landscape

The aim of landscape photography is to capture images of the greater outdoors in a way that brings the viewer into the scene. It typically employs the use of tripod stands and wide-angle lenses. 

As you can see from the image above, even though it’s a landscape photo the orientation chosen is portrait.

As mentioned earlier, portrait vs landscape genres is not particular to specific image orientations. Therefore, it is not unusual to come across portraits that are taken in landscape orientation or images of landscapes that are shot in portrait layout.

As a photographer, therefore, you should feel free to experiment and find what works for you. 

Portrait vs Landscape as a Camera Mode

The other way in which the terms landscape vs. portrait are used is in relation to the camera mode used when capturing images.

Most point-and-shoot cameras and modern DSLRs usually come with a feature that allows you to select the camera mode depending on the subject you are shooting.

For example, when you choose portrait mode, the camera automatically applies pre-programmed settings that are suitable for shooting portrait images. It might automatically increase brightness and fill up the frame to enhance the appearance of the subject that you are capturing. 

On the other hand, when you select landscape mode, the camera interprets this as an intention to shoot an outdoor subject. Consequently, it makes several adjustments, such as increasing the depth of field in order to create the right conditions for a landscape image. 

While the pre-programmed settings that come with these modes are useful for amateur photographers, they do have their own share of limitations. As a serious photographer, therefore, it is much better to learn how to shoot manually and adjust the conditions according to your needs.

This ultimately offers you greater freedom and allows you to capture images that match your creative vision.

Landscape or Portrait What is Better? 

Now that we have demystified the concepts landscape vs portrait, you may be wondering which of the two is more advantageous or appropriate when it comes to photo shooting and presentation.

The truth of the matter is that there are no hard rules when it comes to choosing between landscape and portrait. It simply boils down to your vision and what you desire to achieve. 

The fact that most landscape images are shot in horizontal orientation and portraits are captured in vertical orientation has to do with the way in which we perceive these subjects in our mind’s eye rather than conventional rules.

As a photographer, therefore, you are at liberty to use landscape and portrait in whichever way you feel serves your vision best. 

Landscape or Portrait Which one to Choose

Keep also into account the media you are going to present your work to. Are your photos going to serve the purpose of filling an Instagram account? The best orientation to choose is portrait then. Since modern phones screen are taller then wider.

Are your photos going to be of majestic landscapes to be hanged on a wall? I’d to landscape 90% of the times. Since home walls are wider then taller.

Portrait Vs Landscape Photographer

In this video, portrait photographer Manny Ortiz and landscape photographer Quay Hu entertain a friendly photography challenge.

The concept is simple, they’ll take portrait photos starting from a studio set up against a backdrop and in part two they shoot in different location.

Portrait vs Landscape photographer challenge, who will win?

Main Aspects to Consider

To summarize, always keep these aspects in mind when choosing between landscape and portrait:

  • The message. What message do you want to convey?
  • Your subject. Is it wider than taller or vice versa?
  • The background of your scene. How much of the scene do you want to capture in your frame?
  • Distance from the subject. Shooting a portrait will make the main subject appear closer and it’s advisable to fill the frame as much as possible.
  • Your style. No one can dictate this. Your photographic style is yours and you only can decide what’s better and how or when to break all the rules. Or when to apply all of them!

In Conclusion

While the concepts of portrait vs landscape are familiar to most photographers, few people often realize that they refer to several different factors in photography practice.

So, while landscape vs portrait are used in relation to the orientation of an image, they can also be used to refer to specific genres of photography as well as the camera mode employed.

Having a thorough grasp of these concepts will not only help you become a better photographer but also give you the extra creative spark and inspiration that you have been looking for.

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