Words and pictures Ben Boswell - www.benboswell.co.uk
The fact that the orientation of your camera should be defined as landscape or portrait is very arbitrary. The names suggest that landscapes should be landscape format and portraits should be portrait format. I have never really held with these labels and, looking through my own archive, there seems to be no correlation at all: landscapes and portraits seemingly equally prevalent in portrait and landscape formats. Landscapes are very different when they are upright; they have much more depth and tend to emphasize the contrast between foreground and background.
The height of the picture allows you to make more definite use of perspective, especially if the foreground has a linear quality about it such as a field with ploughed furrows. The shape also gives you a more obvious opportunity to choose the position of your horizon. The rules of composition favour placing the horizon at a third from the top or bottom (actually three eighths from top or bottom – which is fairly accurately the ‘golden ratio’). However, I would suggest trying more extreme framing to see what happens: placing the horizon right at the top or near the base of the picture.
There are times when the subject will dictate the orientation. The example to the right is a case in point, but also illustrates another point: this was taken with an iPhone and the natural way of holding the iPhone and many other camera-phones is upright. A surprising number of photographers favour shooting ‘landscape format’ because that is the way that the camera handles best. Yet most magazines that we read have a page format that is vertical. Don’t let the design of the camera influence the way you frame your pictures.
Depth of field in landscape is rarely a serious issue, but if, like me, you like to play with focus then the emphasis that the format places on the perspective will also give you opportunities to exploit shallow depth of field. Of course, you can do this in a horizontal picture too, but it seems to crop up more often this way round.
The right picture above was actually taken as a ‘landscape format’ picture, but because of the scale of the windmills and the jet it needed cropping to make it work. Having looked at the picture in a variety of shapes I realised that turning it into a portrait made much more sense. None of us gets it right every time and being able to change the orientation of a picture by cropping can change the dynamic of the shot entirely.