This is a guide covering the difference between landscape and portrait photos.
We’ll be looking at landscape vs portrait orientation, landscape vs portrait mode, and which is better to use based on what you are photographing.
We’ll be covering the following topics (click on a bullet point to jump to that section):
Table of Contents
Landscape Orientation vs. Portrait Orientation
First, we should be able to recognize the landscape versus portrait orientations.
On modern digital cameras, a picture is automatically saved as a landscape orientation when you take it while holding the camera straight.
The landscape orientation is used to take images on large groups of people, a spacious area of land or water, or regular videos.
If you are holding the camera at a 90-degree angle, it will then be saved as portrait orientation.
The portrait orientation is used to take a photo of an individual, tall objects such as a lighthouse or skyscraper.
The world of portrait photography is full of people, portraits, animal portraits, and everything between the line.
Landscape photographers obviously take pictures of landscapes, or simply a background, a view.
Portrait and landscape differences lie in its general usage.
Yes, people do debate the general usage when talking about landscape vs portrait.
The good news is that there are some similarities from most of the landscape vs portrait photos, which explains its orientation.
Landscape Mode vs. Portrait Mode
In the heated debate of portrait vs landscape mode, there are some subtle differences. These become the essence of the portrait and landscape differences.
The difference lies between the function of each mode. So, each mode has its own settings (if you use DSLR) which are pre-programmed.
The portrait mode setting is made based on their assumption that you are taking a picture of someone’s face and makes it so that your photos are bright and well lit.
The landscape mode setting thinks that you are going to shoot a landscape and provides a depth of field.
The more detailed differences are shown by its ability to introduce meaning into a photo.
Everything must have a purpose, especially when we talk about landscape vs portrait.
Landscape vs portrait may seem overwhelming but, there are a set of rules of thumb that can be used when choosing between the two of them (but is not limited to):
Subject, what does it look like? Are you going to be more focused on a single wide building, or are you going to frame it with its background to achieve better results?
Will your subject look good if taken in a portrait manner?
Background, do you intend to use the background to give a sense of more space to your picture? Are you not using a background to focus your audience’s attention to your main subject/focus?
Finally, meaning. This factor alone dictates which mode should be used and becomes an essential building block for future effects or editing.
Photographers often use the landscape mode to give a sense of space. There are still many more examples of what meanings can be given to a photo.
What is a Landscape Photo?
To avoid unwanted confusion, a landscape is when the width of the image is wider than it is tall, it has a horizontal orientation.
What is a Portrait Photo?
A portrait is when an image height is taller than its width, it has a vertical orientation
Landscape vs portrait is a touchy subject that sparks controversy. Some people do not accept ideas such as taking a photo of a face using the landscape mode.
There are no set rules, but there are technical terms such as counter-intuitive that may hinder this creative process.
Yet it is possible, photography in its essence is all based on the photographer’s imagination and creativity.
With the brief introduction out of the way, let’s dive deeper into this “landscape vs portrait” problem, shall we?
What is Better Portrait or Landscape?
Well, that is a hard question…
The better choice between landscape vs portrait is…
Both of them.
It is hard to admit, but both of these styles have their advantages.
The landscape or portrait format is not strictly for some types of photography, you could use the landscape format to take an individual photo, and vice versa.
It is remarkable to see how flexible it is to choose between the two styles.
If the question were “landscape vs portrait, which mode is better to capture the Alpen Mountains” then landscape mode would become more favourable.
The same thing could be applied in portrait vs landscape mode when taking a photo of the Eiffel Tower.
Some people prefer using portrait mode, while others would choose the latter.
It is almost as if these modes are highly situational and can be adjusted based on your imagination and creativity.
Although the settings for these modes are available in most DSLR cameras, we would still recommend learning how to set it up by yourself.
Should I Take Pictures in Portrait or Landscape?
From our thoughts above, you may assume that we would recommend you use both of them, right?
For beginners, we think that using landscape is a safe bet because you are granted the freedom to crop the picture, although there are some disadvantages such as quality and its impact on your skill.
If you choose to use portraits in most of your photos, it is okay. But the time will come for you to become a situational user of the portrait vs landscape mode.
It is very easy to fall into the trap of taking portraits as that is the default mobile phone orientation.
Always consider the possibility that you may want to get some prints in the future.
These may be more suited to landscape orientation, particularly if you are hanging them on the wall.
We would then recommend switching between styles and finding which works best for yourself in specific environments.
Although there are some guidelines, they are still flexible and can be used or left alone as you please.
The battle of landscape vs portrait is going to keep on raging as long as 2D flat photos are the norm.
It is likely, however that at some point in the future, 360 degree 3D images will become the norm.
In the meantime, the choice between landscape or professional portrait formats should not restrict your creativity in taking photos.
The following rules of thumb can be applied in most situations:
Portrait format is for singular photos, tall subjects, a small group of animals, or face portraits. While landscape formats are commonly used for wide landscapes, large groups of subjects (animals, fish, etc.), or to fully capture an activity.
The unorthodox use of these formats may become a positive feature and adds a deeper layer of the desired artistic meaning that every photographer seeks.
Jon has been a passionate photographer for 10+ years. Fun fact is that he has a collection of around 300-400 cameras that his family has collected over the years. Outside of photography, he has a Masters Degree in Engineering and has 13 years experience working in the industry across the globe.