Landscape vs Portrait Orientation in Nature Photography

wildlife photography landscape vs portrait

When it comes to composition, one of the most important considerations we as photographers need to make is whether we shoot in landscape vs portrait orientation.

It can sometimes seem like an obvious choice, but there will always be occasions when it is not so clear.

landscape vs portrait orientation

In this article, we will explore when and why you might choose to use either formatting option, and look at the ways in which you can make the most of your chosen image orientation in your nature photography!

Breaking traditions

It should come as no surprise that traditionally, landscape orientation is most commonly associated with landscape photography.

Large skylines and vistas can be framed with ease when the camera is horizontal, especially when shot with a wide-angle lens.

Composing in this way captures an image that is close to how the human eye views a scene, so it often appears most balanced.

landscape vs portrait photography

Unsurprisingly, portrait orientation is traditionally mostly used for portrait photographs. The narrow frame focuses the viewer on the subject and can be more suitable for more upright, vertical views, such as a person’s or an animal’s upper body.

However, there are no hard and fast rules here. In today’s saturated market, breaking these traditions and pushing the boundaries is often when the most compelling images are created.

Top Tip: It’s best never to get stuck thinking about the way something ‘should’ be done. I would always encourage budding photographers to test the boundaries of their knowledge and push back against the ‘ideals’ of certain photographic rules.

Why not set yourself the task of shooting landscape photographs in portrait format and portrait images in landscape?

Read more: Long Exposure Photography – Creative Landscapes with a Slow Shutter

How to Photograph Landscapes in Portrait Orientation

Landscape images are so often suited to the landscape format that it is often difficult to train your eye to visualize a landscape composition in portrait orientation.

Breaking away from this rule, however, is a great way of pushing your creative boundaries. By setting yourself the task of shooting a landscape only in portrait, you will inevitably force yourself to view each scene differently.

landscape vs portrait orientation

Here are some things to think about when out in the field aiming to compose your vertical landscape shots:

Think vertical

When composing portrait orientation landscape images, look for vertical leading lines, rather than horizontal ones. A line of rocks, a dock over a lake, or a path, for instance, can lead the viewer’s eye through the frame.

If the path twists and turns diagonally through the picture, this can add a strong dynamic element.

Try trees

Features that naturally have a vertical shape, such as trees, can also work well as focal points within the landscape.

A prominent feature such as a lone tree will pull the viewer’s eye at first glance, before they then go on to explore the rest of the frame.

Find the depth

Depth can also be emphasized by shooting landscapes in portrait orientation. Using a wide lens will exaggerate the effect, and including some strong foreground interest will set an anchor point.

Read more: How to Use a Wide-angle Lens for Landscape Photography

Feature the foreground

Going in close to a foreground feature will emphasize perspective and further increase the feeling of depth within a scene.

Keep in mind that you may need to stop your aperture down to increase depth of field if you are to achieve front-to-back sharpness, especially when you are focusing close to your foreground interest.

Calculating the hyperfocal distance will ensure that you achieve the maximum depth of field, but simply focusing just past your foreground subject and using a small aperture is a much quicker way, and should ensure enough depth of field for even the most expansive scene.

Read more: Landscape Composition – Using Foreground to Create Depth

Focus on the details

Using a longer focal length and closing in on smaller, more intimate details within the landscape can be another great way of exploring portrait orientation.

Natural textures and shapes created by mountains, perhaps, or cascading water as it flows between boulders.

These smaller details can reveal interesting shapes, patterns, and form which would otherwise become lost in the wider scene.

landscape vs portrait photography

Just because the landscape photography world is saturated with landscape-orientation images doesn’t mean you can’t create outstanding shots!

You may find that extra-wide vistas just can’t be captured in any other way, or the sense of scale and depth you’re looking for requires that horizontal breadth.

And as it is closer to what we see with our own eyes, it can be the best way to capture the beauty of the scenery as it was when you saw it in real time.

Besides, there are plenty of landscape photographers, particularly those with an Instagram focus, who shoot mostly in portrait orientation, so remember that creative and unique images will ultimately come from more than just deciding between a portrait or landscape composition.

How to photograph wildlife in landscape orientation

Wildlife portrait images are synonymous with portrait orientation. Shooting vertically will often appear most natural and balanced when filling the frame with a bird or animal.

This is especially true when you are framing the image tightly and focusing on the head and shoulders of your subject in true ‘portrait style.’

You may choose to use this method when it looks right aesthetically, or perhaps when you want the viewer to focus on the facial expression or features of your subject.

landscape vs portrait wildlife photography

This doesn’t mean, however, that you should ignore landscape orientation when photographing portraits or even when focusing on a facial expression!

There are plenty of successful frame-filling wildlife portraits, taken in landscape orientation. And, as is the case with landscape photographs, conforming to traditional rules and guidelines can stifle creativity.

Instead, explore the boundaries and don’t be afraid of bold compositions! Here are some tips to get you started.

Read more: How to Take Impacting Portraits of Wildlife

Breathing room

Leaving plenty of negative space around the subject when shooting in landscape orientation can create a heightened sense of space and isolation.

Backgrounds are paramount. Look carefully at your surroundings and choose your shooting angle depending on the story you would like to tell.

Read more: How to Photograph Animals in Their Habitat

Mood and atmosphere

Including large areas of shadow can add an air of mystery, while contrasting or complementary colors can also affect the mood and atmosphere of an image.

landscape vs portrait wildlife

Read more: An Introduction to the Power of Colour Photography

Extreme compositions

These can often have a powerful, immediate impact. Using a long lens to close in on just part of a bird or animal, for instance, and leaving space to one side can be a bold way of interpreting your subject.

It is these types of images that make a viewer look twice and perhaps think a little more deeply about the message behind the picture. There are no hard and fast rules, so experiment!

Choosing between landscape and portrait orientation

Ultimately, you will ‘in the moment’ probably need to decide between the two orientations. A good example of this could be when composing images of wildlife in the environment.

wildlife photography landscape vs portrait

This is one of the best ways to tell a story with your photography and can require a combining of your knowledge of portrait and landscape orientation compositions to decide which is better suited to the scene in front of you (though for this method, I find I usually opt for landscape orientation).

For example, when the subject appears smaller in the picture, elements of the landscape can be used as a natural frame.

Think about the way in which these elements lie. Perhaps a horizontal tree branch above the subject can be used to draw the viewer’s eye into the picture. In this instance, the horizontal nature of the branch will undoubtedly suit the landscape format.

However, if the framing elements appear more vertical in nature, such as water as it flows down a waterfall or river, portrait orientation may be better suited.

The key is to study every inch of the frame and think carefully about the elements within it and the way in which they lie.

wildlife photography tips

And of course, if your subject remains in the same spot for long enough, taking images in both landscape and portrait orientation is good practice.

You can then spend as much time as you need afterward to study each style and make up your mind about which you prefer!

Top Tip: When photographing birds in flight, landscape orientation is usually most suitable. It will be much easier to track and pan with the bird if you have space in the frame on either side of it.

photograph birds in flight

But again, don’t be afraid of breaking convention. By capturing a flying bird in portrait format, you may find yourself creating something a little more unique and surprising.

Consider social media

Depending on the type of photography that you specialise in, and the motivations behind it, social media can be an important consideration in today’s market.

It can provide a gateway into selling your work or simply showcasing it and sharing it with others. If you are a photographer who uses platforms such as Instagram regularly, you may find that the way your images are displayed influences your choice of orientation.

social media photography

Portrait orientation will fill a mobile phone screen and tend to show your pictures in their best light, but try not to feel trapped by this.

You should try to give yourself as much freedom as possible when it comes to composition and let your own personal vision be the guiding force behind your creative decisions.

Read more: Social Media Marketing for Photographers – What’s the Best Platform?


Shooting in portrait or landscape orientation does not demand any specialist gear, but there are certain considerations to keep in mind.

When using a tripod, it is important to use a head that allows the camera to swivel onto its side. I use a ball head for landscape photography as it is quick and easy to make fine adjustments to composition.

editing nature photographs

The vast majority of ball heads will have a small recess midway down the housing to enable the camera to be swiveled 90 degrees, allowing for quick changes to portrait orientation.

Cameras that have a vertical shutter button are much easier to use in portrait orientation as they will avoid your arm having to swivel into an uncomfortable angle.

Certain camera models that don’t have vertical shutter as standard allow a vertical battery grip to be added with the extra shutter button. This can be a useful accessory to have and will give you the added bonus of extra battery life.

Read more: The Best Equipment for Landscape Photography


When photographing wildlife, the critical moment can come and go in the blink of an eye. Making fast decisions and reacting quickly is vital if you are to achieve the most effective compositions in-camera, and this is what every photographer should strive for.

Landscape vs portrait cropping

There will always be instances, however, when we are not able to react quickly enough, and we come away thinking ‘if only I had shot that in portrait – or landscape!’

Alas, all is not lost.

Editing software such as Lightroom and Photoshop make it incredibly easy to crop a landscape image to portrait orientation or vice versa.

how to crop photos

In the early days of digital photography, this was not ideal as the size of the image after a substantial crop would be too small for anything but social media.

The advancements in camera resolution, however, have made it possible to make sizeable crops and still end up with a respectable file size, but be aware that you will ideally need a full-frame camera with at least 40 megapixels to do this successfully.

Read more: 9 Essential Things to Know for Editing Landscape Photos

In conclusion

Although there are plenty of guidelines when it comes to composition, the way a picture is designed is subjective, and no photographer should feel confined to these ‘rules.’

Challenge yourself to think outside the box. Take wildlife portrait images in landscape orientation, and landscapes in portrait.

Switching things up like this can help unleash your creativity, and you might just be surprised at the results. But don’t be afraid to use the ‘traditional’ orientations either.

There is a reason they are so popular in their chosen genres! And if you can manage to shoot both in the moment, this is always your best option, as you can decide between the compositions from the comfort of your home afterwards.

Visit Ben's website

Ben Hall is one of the UK’s leading wildlife photographers with many international awards to his name. His images are widely published throughout the world, he has has co-authored two books and runs wildlife photography workshops in the UK and overseas.

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