Horizontal format, upright format, square format:

more likely called landscape format, portrait format, square format, but we want to know why

The choice of the image format is crucial for the picture effect.

A powerful picture design element of a photo is the appropriate choice of a format.

Already the preliminary fixing, which format the photo should have, is a big part of the overall impression.

The possible (widely-used) choices are:

  • the square format,
  • Horizontal format, „landscape format“,
  • Upright format, „portrait format“.

The camera sensors in general offer a aspect ratio of 24 x 36 mm, what is about 1,5 : 1. For easier comparability I calculate the aspect ratio onto 1 of its longer side : shorter side.

Even smaller camera sensor have this aspect ratio, for example 15,6 x 23,7 mm. How we use the given space is up to us - horizontal, upright, square is a creative choice.

When we don/'t do a prasentation which is bound to a monitor or a projector, we can influence the picture/'s message with the format. After my opinion the motive should determine the format choice.

The horizontal format - the familar format in photography

The horizontal format is literal our view on everything. Because our eyes are arranged parallel to each other we see our environment that way and that is the reason why it is a very familar format. On the other hand a very familiar format might provoke boredom.

For landscape photography the horizontal format seems natural and that is the reason why its in general called the "landscape format". Photographing landscapes that way shows a lot on the finished pictures.

Panorama is the extension of the horizontal format. The special charm of it is, that we this perspective is not possible with our natural visual angle and the panorama photo immediately shows much more. When taking panorama photos a consistent horizontal line (sky, horizon, water) is helpful and orders the picture.

The placement of important picture elements should not be placed in the middle when doing the horizontal format, but rather in the golden ratio.

Photographed persons, with a line of sight towards the edge of the photo should have in general enough space that their view not immediately hit the edge of the photo.

Certainly, not every landscape shot has to be made with the horizontal format. Other formats can cause an alienation effect, which can be quite appealing and changes the picture/'s message. Simply test.

There are some characteristics attributed to the different formats: the horizontal format can be characterized as quiet, vastness, calming and passive.

The upright format

Pictures in the upright format support vertical lines. That way, for example, can easily show the size of buildings or endless streets. You don/'T believe me? Then try the upright format.

When using the upright format care about having one consistent line - it does not matter if that line really exists or is only virtual through a viewing direction.

The dynamic of the upright format is also caused by the observer, who subconsciously perceives it as a standing box, which is always in danger of falling over. That is the reason why the charaterstics active and dynamic are attributed to that format. That effect even increaseses when there are diagonal lines in the picture.

There are some characteristics attributed to the different formats: the upright format can be characterized as dynamic, active and closeness.

The square as a format in photography

When using the squre format you can put the image content in the middle, if you want to extent the geometric structure of the format into the picture.

Or you use the golden ratio.

There are some characteristics attributed to the different formats: the square format can be characterized as the absolute uniformity.

Circles and ellipses as a format

Circles and ellipses are today very unusual - in addition you seldomly can buy matching frames. In the starting time the circle was quite an alternative, because this format came out of different "photo boxes".

Exercise picture format

Exercise: photograph the same motive in the horizontal and the upright format. You can lateron test the square format on your personal computer. Take a long look on the results and estimate the different image effect.

Author: Axel Pratzner

Translator: Felix Pratzner