My next exercise for The Art of Photography is ‘Vertical and Horizontal frames’. The aim is to take 20 photographs in portrait or ‘vertical’ format, as the ‘norm’ tends to be landscape or ‘horizontal’. I initially found this an odd exercise, as I had never considered that I was in favour of one format or the other. The fact that I shoot a lot of people possibly means I use the camera vertically more often than most (I don’t know, it’s very difficult to tell). After a very quick scan through my images I would say I shoot vertically between 15-20% of the time. It would be very interesting to hear if anyone else has an idea of his or her ratio on this topic.
The fact of the matter is that in this digital age we are almost pre-programmed to take photos horizontally. Everything is geared up for it and unless you are a designer who turns their monitor vertically for poster work you are committed to a digital universe of lanscape proportions. If I go ahead and put my vertical photographs up on screen they take up barely a third of a 1280×720 display (a pretty regular size for a computer display monitor), making them very difficult to see and look at. If you are building a webpage you certainly don’t want something on there that is difficult to see. Any visitor to the site won’t waste their time trying to figure out what that very small vertical photo is of and will move on to the next site.
Cameras themselves are designed to be held and used on the horizontal plane. The button is on the top right-hand side of the camera making it awkward to hold the camera vertically and take a nice controlled, steady shot (especially if you have a big lens on the front). Even my DSLR with a flexible LCD screen doesn’t tilt in a vertical plane (which would come in very handy indeed). It will be interesting to see whether this changes at all with the advent of handheld devises that are predominantly designed to be held in a vertical format. The design community will be scratching their heads to work how to format for both vertical and horizontal (having only recently been forced to downsize everything to fit on these devices in the first place).
However, a bad workman always blames his tools. The fact of the matter is that our eyes and brain do not work on a vertical format. Our eyes are positioned side-by-side (not one on top of the other!) so that we can hunt, with binocular and peripheral vision, across a landscape! And there you have it, landscape. In our eyes and in our brain. Getting it to work in a vertical format is just plain difficult and requires extra effort and a different thinking. Well, there you go. If I’m going to have to put extra effort in to my photograph I don’t think I’ll bother!
I honestly didn’t think when it came to an exercise that looked so straight forward it would be possible for me to become quite so emotive about it. It’s made me think a bit though and I’ll enjoy taking the photographs (and maybe my vertical to horizontal percentage will change too!).