Horizontal and Vertical Composition Techniques – Which is Best for You?

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In the previous article we looked at the most important aspect to consider while composing a photograph, especially a Landscape Photograph.

Today let us look at 2 very basic composition techniques –Horizontal and Vertical.

Horizontal and Vertical composition techniques helps you to change the look and feel of the image.

There are certain qualities that each of these technique possess. Let us look at them now.

Horizontal Composition Technique

We see our world horizontally and ironically the Camera sees the world horizontally too!

So, we tend to compose every scene horizontally because it is natural to us.

Is it bad to always compose horizontally? Does that mean we should try vertical composition technique everywhere? Not really.

Horizontal subjects, objects, lines, shapes, forms, and so on tend to give a feeling of stability and calmness to the viewer. Because horizontal objects are parallel to the ground and will not fall due to gravitation force (unless they are above the ground level).

We are constantly fighting gravity when we stand, walk, run and so on as oppose to while we are in sleeping position.

Horizontal position indicates a sense of stability, restfulness, and calmness to the viewer.

If you want to showcase these attributes in your images then Horizontal compositions are ideal.

For instance, horizontal composition of a beach with horizon parallel to the ground gives a sense of calmness to the viewer.

It is the very reason why you should always try to get the perfect horizon (or atleast make it perfect in the post), since a skewed horizon will make the viewer uncomfortable.

Below are some of the examples of Horizontal Composition technique.

Nature Photography Simplified by Prathap. Horizontal and Vertical Composition Techniques. Waterfalls in Blue Ginger Resort in Wayanad.

The waterfalls scene usually yield to both horizontal and vertical composition techniques.
The horizontal composition technique used here to capture hidden waterfall in Wayanad, helped me to showcase the surrounding greenery that makes it more beautiful

Nature Photography Simplified by Prathap. Horizontal and Vertical Composition Techniques.. Presque Isle falls decorated beautfiully by the autumn colors.

The waterfalls scene usually yield to both horizontal and vertical composition techniques.
The horizontal composition technique used here to capture Presque Isle waterfalls, in Upper Peninsula, helped me to showcase the surrounding Autumn foliage that gives a sense of season

Nature Photography Simplified by Prathap. Horizontal and Vertical Composition Techniques. Fall Foliage in Indiana Dunes State Park. Indiana.

Using horizontal composition I was able to include depict this dream like scene of a fall foliage in Indiana Dunes State Park

 

Nature Photography Simplified by Prathap. Horizontal and Vertical Composition Techniques. Fall Foliage on the way to Agate Waterfalls in Upper Peninsula, Upper Michigan

By composing this beautiful Autumn road horizontal, I was able to emphasize on the road and the entire beauty of fall foliage in the Upper Peninsula region

Vertical Composition Technique

Vertical position of a camera is not natural to us. Sometime we feel awkward, which is probably the main reason for avoiding it.

Vertical objects like Trees, Light Poles, Buildings, etc are perceived as strong because they stand against the gravitation force. Because we know that anything that is not horizontal is bound to fall due to gravity.

Vertical composition helps to give a feeling of strength to the image and also emphasizes the height of the objects that are most often lost in horizontal composition.

We tend to scan the image left to right but the vertical compositions force us to look at the image top to bottom making it more enticing to the viewer.

One more important consideration for Vertical composition is to create the depth in landscape photographs. You have enough space to emphasize foreground, middle ground and a background object which makes it an irresistible choice for a Landscape Photographer.

Below are some of the examples of Vertical Composition technique.

Nature Photography Simplified by Prathap. Horizontal and Vertical Composition Techniques. Waterfalls in Blue Ginger Resort in Wayanad.

The vertical composition of the hidden waterfalls in Wayanad, gives a feeling of depth and emphasizes the height of the surrounding trees.
Both these aspects were not very apparent in the horizontal composition

Nature Photography Simplified by Prathap. Horizontal and Vertical Composition Techniques.. Presque Isle falls decorated beautfiully by the autumn colors.

The vertical composition of the Presque Isle waterfalls in Upper Peninsula, gives a feeling of depth by including more of foreground and also very apparent leading lines formed due to the current

 

Nature Photography Simplified by Prathap. Horizontal and Vertical Composition Techniques. Fall Foliage on the way to Agate Waterfalls in Upper Peninsula, Upper Michigan

The Vertical composition of fall foliage in the Upper Peninsula region, gives a feeling of how tall the trees were. It emphasizes height of the trees and their outreaching branches

Nature Photography Simplified by Prathap. Horizontal and Vertical Composition Techniques. Fall Foliage in Indiana Dunes State Park. Indiana.

Using vertical composition I am emphasizing the tall trees with beautiful autumn foliage in Indiana Dunes State Park

If you take another look at all the horizontal compositions of the same scenes, you feel at ease and you scan the photos from left to right going through many things that are happening in the scene.

However, the vertical compositions of the same scene yield a very different sense!

Which is Best for you? Horizontal or Vertical Composition?

As you know by now, it usually depends on the scene.

Most often it is good to go with both horizontal and vertical composition for a scene. This is especially true when you have an amazing scene in front of you. Who knows when it would become a Cover page of a magazine or a book?

Good news is that nature photographs easily yield to both the compositions as there are multiple objects to work with.

By forcing to look at the world vertically you will open up a whole new world.

Then, why not shoot both?

So…would you start shooting both Horizontal and Vertical now on?

Good Luck!

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9 Responses to Horizontal and Vertical Composition Techniques – Which is Best for You?

  1. Gerrie Malan October 1, 2014 at 7:15 am #

    A very interesting one, thank you. And those Fall colours are beautiful.

    • Prathap October 1, 2014 at 9:08 am #

      Thank you for letting me know Gerrie Malan.

  2. Pierre Pomerleau October 1, 2014 at 11:47 am #

    Prathap,

    As usual, an interesting one. I often do both on site, and after checking them on the computer, I keep both, because as you said, the perspective is interesting in both
    ways. Ever tried a South-north panoramic picture? Fantastic results.

    Keep up your good advices, always helpful.

    • Prathap October 1, 2014 at 10:24 pm #

      Thank you very much for the kind words Pierre Pomerleau. I haven’t done the South-North yet…that’s interesting. I shall do it sometime. Thanks for that.

  3. David Mendosa October 1, 2014 at 2:09 pm #

    Dear Prathap,

    Great post. Thank you.

    I’ll add two thoughts that come to mine on this subject:

    1. Another of my teachers has a saying he repeats over and over: “Exhaust all possibilities” when shooting a scene. He particularly encourages us to shoot both horizontally and vertically. I make sure to do that and to take several views of each because I am still not smart enough to see in the field what I later see at my computer.

    2. As I understand it, the balance in horizontal and vertical shots works differently. For vertical shots it’s pleasing to the eye to have the subject right in the middle, perfectly symmetrical. Of course, we have to do it differently for horizontal shots, so I typically put my subject in one of the four power points. I hope that I express this clearly enough!

    • Prathap October 1, 2014 at 10:29 pm #

      Thank you very much for the kind words dear David. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I really appreciate it.
      I will be writing an article about on these lines “Exhaust all possibilities”. That is one of the most important aspect of image making process. Thank you for bringing it up.
      Placing the subject in four power points will definitely make it work…the rule of thirds.

  4. suresh raut June 2, 2015 at 5:45 pm #

    Nice prevention. View itself self explnatory-

  5. Tome September 28, 2017 at 11:16 pm #

    Hi Prathap,

    horizontal and vertical composition waterfalls scene in Wayanad is looks so beautiful! Nice work – Like you mentioned surrounding greenery is outweighing everything – Thanks.

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