Project: Frame shapes and sizes – Vertical and horizontal frames

Exercise 8 : Vertical and horizontal frames

Photograph the same scene twice –  once in horizontal and once in vertical format – and do this for 20 scenes.  The exercise brief suggests a fairly compact location and I chose to visit Wisley Gardens, Surrey,  which is one of the Royal Horticultural Society gardens.  I visited there for some of the earlier exercises.

Michael Freeman reminds us that the shape of the viewfinder frame and LCD screen, “has a huge influence on the form that the image takes”, (p. 12 M. Freeman, 2007). Digital SLRs are made to be used for horizontal pictures, therefore, turning them on their side is not as comfortable.  Additionally, a horizontal frame approximates our natural view of the world. The exercise brief actually asks us to photograph each scene in vertical format first and then, after processing these images to return and photograph the same scene in horizontal format.  I have to confess that I took all the photographs at the same time, and, on the whole use horizontal format first. In my own defence, I actually do, nowadays, pause to decide whether to use horizontal or vertical format so a fair proportion of my photographs are vertical.  On this occasion, though, I think that knowing that I would be using both formats, I unconsciously used horizontal format first because it is a more natural way to hold the camera.

I followed an instruction to take each set of photographs from the same focal length.  I think this was my internal instruction because I now don’t see that written anywhere in the brief.  I certainly used different focal lengths throughout, but there are only two sets where I actually changed the focal length between shots and I will note this where it applies.

I composed the vertical shot here to accentuate the height of the roof and the tree.

The vertical format accentuates the height of the ‘steeple’ in comparison with the building next door.

Here, I used a focal length of 70mm  standing 5.5m away for the arch itself, but a focal length of 15mm from 2.3m away to capture the whole of the doorway.

I chose to capture the lamp post against the sky for the horizontal frame, but the vertical frame gives another impression of height when the lamp post is contrasted with the treetop.

Again, the vertical format gives more impression of the height of the tree.

I was taken by the more sinister aspect of Pan when viewed close-up and crouching down in front of him.  The horizontal frame was taken at 21mm and I was 0.7m away.  I stepped back for the vertical shot (3.4m away) and used a focal length of 32mm, which allowed for the height of the statue.  I put these two on Flickr and comments were made about the difference between the shots. I have done some more work on the close-up as wall could be seen behind Pan’s left hand.  A suggestion was made that I could crop this out but,instead I cloned in leaves instead of wall and allowed Pan some space to play his pipes!

Vertical format here gives more space to show the height of the steps, whereas the horizontal format emphasises the steps in the foreground.

I unconsciously chose vertical format first here to give more impression of height.  My sense of tidiness actually whispered that I should change the photographs around on the page but I left it to show how I had, on the whole, naturally used a horizontal frame.

Horizontal format works better here I think because it shows more of the width of the greenhouse.

Horizontal format allowed me to show more of the context within which the gardener works.

Horizontal format shows more greenery whereas vertical brings in more of the windows at the back (highlights blown because of the grey light outside.  Normally I would crop but I left this in to keep the vertical format.  In fact, normally I would frame a shot like this to exclude the light outside if I thought it would be a problem.

This is one where I unconsciously chose vertical format first because it better suits the waterfall.


It did seem quite time-consuming and cumbersome to choose and then process 40 photographs just for an exercise.  However, it has really shown me how I do have a tendency to naturally frame shots in horizontal format. It’s also been interesting for me to see the different effects.

17th March 2011