This article is an extract from the Wiley title: Digital Macro & Close-Up Photography For Dummies by Thomas Clark. For more information on this book and other Wiley titles, visit Wiley's website.
The difference between a vertical or horizontal format in macro and close-up photography can determine the success of your compositions. Knowing which to use in a particular situation can be based on a number of factors, such as the height and width of a subject, the type of environment it's in, what you want to say about the scene, and in many cases, your own preference.
Choosing a frame based on the subject
A horizontal frame in its most basic sense is most suitable for subjects which are wider than they are tall. The opposite is true of a vertical frame. If a subject literally fits better in one type of frame than the other, it makes sense to choose that type of format.
The first question you ask yourself when deciding what format to use is, "Which does my subject fit into best?" Fitting your subject into the frame that makes the most sense helps to eliminate wasted frame space and awkward compositions.
If you have multiple subjects in a scene, you must determine the best way to fit them into your frame based on how they are oriented to one another. If the subjects are lined in a row, use a horizontal format to suit them best. If they're lined in a column, a vertical format makes more sense.
Selecting your frame based on the background
The shape of a subject won't always determine whether you shoot with a vertical or horizontal frame. In some cases you want to include specific details of the surrounding environment that are important to your theme or message.
If you notice that the foreground and background details are both important to your message, you may be able to maximise how much of those areas are included in a photograph by selecting a vertical frame. This enables you to include much of the foreground area, while still showing information from the background.
If you notice that the span of your scene contains important details, select a horizontal format. This enables you to maximise how much of the scene can be shown from left to right.
Certain cameras (such as many medium-format models) produce images in the square format. Some photographers utilise this format as a preference, or when a scene or subject simply fits best into a square rather than a vertical or horizontal format.