When I first started shooting portraits, I tended to fill the frame with my subject and that usually meant flipping the camera onto it’s side and shooting in portrait orientation. However, now that I’ve been shooting more, I’m moving away from that and choosing to frame my subject within the greater context of the setting instead. I like to see what type of environment my subjects are in and what is happening around them. It creates more of a story and generates more interest. This seems to be especially true if the subject is not looking into the camera.

focal length: 86 mm
shutter speed: 1/800
aperture: f/4.5
ISO: 320
flash: fired

For example, take the image above. The exposure is good and the focus is sharp but where is the story? What am I supposed to be looking at? The subject is looking away and this leads me to wonder what she’s watching. A little mystery can be a good thing but in this particular image, portrait orientation didn’t work so well as it’s a little boring.

So, how about if we flip the camera back and take a shot in landscape orientation?

Now we can see the pond water around her, which leads me to believe she’s probably looking at a duck. It’s still not the most interesting photo, since my subject is so expressionless (but that’s what she normally looks like!) but being able to see the setting has made it better than the first image.

Just because I want to see the setting doesn’t meant that I shoot at f/22 so the subject blends into their surroundings. Even if the scenery is not in focus, the viewer can still pick up on it and start piecing the story together. The point is that elements of the background and foreground are still recognizable.

Of course, there are times where portrait orientation would serve better composition-wise and others where landscape would be the preferred choice. At least when it comes to portraits, it’s a good idea to try both while shooting because really, it’s all a matter of taste. What do you think?

Laura is a Vancouver wedding and portrait photographer. Visit laurahana.com.