Why shoot horizontally with your cell phone?

Posted Mar. 22nd, 2023 by Daniel J. Cox

Why shoot horizontally with your cell phone?

I hope to get you to think about why you should shoot horizontally with your cell phone. Vertical photos are rampant, and most look terrible! This never used to be a problem. Since the cell phone came along, most people have been shooting vertically, having no idea why they should consider horizontal. In my days of selling lots of natural history images, I would always shoot some vertical pictures. Why? Because photo editors needed verticals for covers, and covers were more lucrative. Since few magazines buy pictures anymore, I no longer worry about verticals unless they’re staring at me through the viewfinder. Sometimes verticals are preferable, but you must consider when that is. Below is an image that is much better as a vertical than a horizontal.

A vertical that works
Long-tailed Macaque sitting on the shoulder of a rock statue at the Ubud Monkey Forest, Bali

Why so many inexperienced photographers shoot vertically today is a mystery to me. The only reason I can think of is how the cell phone sits in a person’s hand. So let’s discuss why you should give the perspective of the image some thought before you shoot.

Let’s get horizontal

Most of life is horizontal. When you photograph a group of friends, they typically stand or sit side by side. They would be behind each other if they didn’t spread out horizontally. How do you see your subjects if every person is behind the other? You don’t. That’s why most people line up horizontally when someone says, “Hey, photo time!” Or let’s consider the photo below, where our waiter wanted to get a picture of us during a special dinner in Indonesia. And what did he do? He shot a very obvious horizontal image vertically. Below is the original.

too much header
Here’s an example of the typical vertical image that should have been horizontal.

Cropping out what isn’t necessary

Now, look at the image below, which I’ve marked up, showing the many problems of a vertical image that would have been much better horizontally. The entire top of this image has nothing to say about the picture. Half of this photo is of the bland underbelly of the roof. It says nothing about the wonderful food we enjoyed and the amazing people in the photo. It’s completely useless photographically. So why include it? You shouldn’t. Crop out what isn’t necessary.

Chopped up to look better
The other issue I can’t fix is the shoulders of the people that have been cut off due to poor cropping. Had this been shot horizontally it wouldn’t look like the photographer butchered their friends.

Finally, in this last image, I’ve cropped it close to how it should’ve been captured initially. I’ve chopped the original up to get as close as to what I would have done. This is a much cleaner, more interesting image that draws your attention to the people who are supposed to be the subjects. It would be even nicer if the two ladies on the end weren’t missing their shoulders. Cut off body parts are typical of vertical images that should’ve been shot horizontally.

Why shoot horizontally with your cell phone
This is a nice group photo that could have been improved had the ladies’ shoulders not been chopped off.

Don’t forget to zoom with your feet

Another issue many people have is needing to get closer to their subjects. Most phones have different focal length lenses, including wide, medium, and short telephoto. If you still can’t get close enough to your subjects, walk closer. Or change to a more telephoto lens.

Why shoot horizontally with your cell phone
Zoom with your feet

I can’t tell you how many pictures I see where the person taking the photo stands way too far back. This often produces lots of skies or ugly foregrounds, especially if you shoot them vertically. So don’t be afraid to zoom in with your feet. Get rid of unnecessary headroom and footers.

Why shoot horizontally with your cell phone
Here’s a better cropped image

Turn your phone horizontal to look and sound like a pro

These things will help you produce more satisfying pictures of your friends, family, and others you care about. And don’t be afraid to tell the person you just gave your phone to they should turn the phone sideways, also known as horizontally. Your pictures will look better, you’ll sound like a true professional, and the waiter will think you know what you’re doing.

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There are 2 comments on this post…
  1. Bill TylerOn Jun. 1st, 2023 (12 months ago)

    It’s almost funny. It used to be that most people shot everything horizontally and never considered verticals. Now it’s just the opposite, at least with phones. The ergonomics seem to favor verticals with a phone, but ergonomics aren’t images. Even worse are the vertically-oriented videos. Why anyone thinks that’s a good idea is beyond me.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jun. 2nd, 2023 (12 months ago)

      Coudl not agree more Bill.

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