When should you shoot a vertical? Whenever you shoot a horizontal. Seriously, many photographers overlook the advantages of the vertical shot, which are many.
• Portraits: Verticals aren’t called “portrait orientation” for nothing. The 3:2 aspect ratio of most film and digital SLRs closely matches the proportions of the human face. The best way to avoid a distracting background is to leave it out to begin with, so turn that camera sideways and fill the frame with the face.
• Deep space: Verticals let you get a wider angle of view with the same focal length, as they can take in low foreground detail without losing the background.
• Reflections: For those puddle/pond reflections, go vertical. This will let you take in more of the skyscraper or the mountain. Try framing nothing but the puddle reflection.
• Dynamic space: The vertical (standing) format is inherently more dynamic than the horizontal (reclining) format. If the picture looks flat and lackluster, add a jolt with a vertical. Curves and lines moving through the frame help.
• Neater stitches: If your widest-angle lens isn’t wide enough to capture your subject, and you decide to stitch, verticals attached along their long side give you a more manageable final image shape (a conventional rectangle) than merged horizontals, which become unwieldy long ribbons.
• It’s only natural: Some things are by their nature verticals—skyscrapers, redwoods, statues, giraffes. You’d be surprised how many people forget this. Defy expectations: Take verticals just for the heck of it, even if you know it should be a horizontal. Look for an interesting crop of the big horizontal scene. You never know.
(Picture Doctor, January 2009)