Formats for photographing people

Vertical format:

When you see someone walking towards you, you automatically ‘cut out’ most of the surroundings and focus on that person. Photographically, you get the same effect by turning the camera round and using the vertical format.

Occasionally a horizontal portrait works really well but most are weakened by a landscape composition that leaves the naturally upright human figure flanked by empty spaces or cluttered background detail. And if you put a vertical subject in a horizontal format there’s a danger of chopping bits off top and bottom, which looks awful.

You can fill the frame much more easily with a vertical rectangle and because of this, it is often called portrait format.

Like all upright subjects, the human figure is naturally suited to a vertical format. If you're not including the full figure, however, avoid using the knees or waist as cut-off points. A head and shoulders portrait usually works best in a vertical format. It's much easier to fill the frame with the subject and leave out distracting background detail.

However, portraits in a horizontal format, done in the right way would have the immediate impact of the unusual. If you are to try using horizontal format for portrait, it’s especially important that you make strong use of the entire frame – with no unwanted expanses on either side.

Some tips and guidelines for you to decide how to shoot:

  1. Ask yourself what you want the subject to 'say'

  2. Look at it horizontally

  3. Look at it vertically

  4. Shoot it both ways and compare the pictures

  5. Keep looking at photos - your own pictures, those in newspapers, magazine and books – and ask yourself if that's the format you would have chosen.

More information about camera settings

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