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Taking Pictures With Your Phone: When to Shoot in Portrait versus Landscape?

Updated: Apr 7, 2022

It has never been easier to take photos than it is today - since most of us walk around with state of the art cameras in our pocket. For busy business owners, smartphone photography can be a lifesaver, too. Just the thought of having to take product photos on a camera, download the photos onto the computer then somehow get them onto their phones to post to social media… well, it’s exhausting.

Yes, there are many good reason to use a smartphone to take pictures at your place of business:

  • The cameras on modern smartphones are quite sophisticated

  • You typically have your smartphone with you 24/7

  • Having photos on your phone means you don’t have to move them from a memory card to your computer then onto your phone - they are right where you want them for posting to social media.

  • There are tons of free editing software apps you can use on mobile

But when it comes to taking pictures on your smartphone, how do you decide whether to hold the camera in landscape or portrait?

If you don’t know what we mean by this, let me explain:

When we talk about portrait or landscape, we're talking aspect ratio. Aspect ratio is a proportional relationship between an image's width and height.

Portrait tends to be 9:16, or when you hold your phone upright or vertically

Landscape tends to be 16:9, this is when you turn your phone on it’s side and shoot horizontally

To decide which way is best for taking pictures, it’s helpful to think about where you’ll be using your photos, and also what exactly are you photographing.

Shooting Photos for Social Media

Instagram images used to be all squares, but now Instagram allows users to adjust or zoom out to show the actual shape of the picture (to some degree). This allows people to showcase wider landscape shots and taller portrait shots without having to cut anything off.

Facebook allows you to use photos that are shot in landscape or portrait.

TikTok is a mobile app, so vertical portrait shots works best to maximize screen coverage.

Which way? When to photograph in landscape or portrait

While there is no true answer to this question, another way to decide is to think of your subject:

  • Are you photographing something that has context around it that you’d like to capture? An outdoor shot of a landscape (there you go, the answer is in the name). Turning your phone on its side and capturing a wider, landscape shot will feel more professional in these cases, and help you show more of the scene.

  • Are you taking a portrait of a person? (Again, it’s in the name) While you could go landscape or portrait here, portrait will help focus in on your subject for a closer shot. For a more stylistic shot, place your subject off-centre and shoot in landscape.

  • Are you taking a shot that will be edited to include text? If you need your image to have space for text, try shooting in landscape, and use the rule of thirds to place your subject off to either the right or left to leave space for text to be added later.

  • Are you shooting video? Now this is a tricky one. If you’re shooting a video that will exclusively be used on Instagram or TikTok, shoot in portrait. This will ensure your video matches the size of the screen it will be viewed on: mobile. If you’re shooting video to be used on YouTube, opt instead for landscape. There’s nothing more amateur than watching YouTube videos that display as a narrow part of the screen because they were shot vertically on a phone.

A note about Aspect Ratio for video:

Aspect ratio is important especially for IGTV videos (videos on Instagram that are more than 1 minute long). Make sure that your video has an aspect ratio of 16:9 (landscape) or 9:16 (portrait). Now, the good news is that most of our phones shoot in this mode already. If you want to make sure it’s right, try using - it's a free tool we use all the time that allows you to choose either one depending on what fits your video best.

At the end of the day, the way you shoot your photos and videos depends on the context and where you are posting them. The best thing to do if you’re not sure is to try shooting in both landscape and portrait. It may seem like an insignificant decision, but it can really make a difference in the framing and angle, and therefore the overall look of your photos. The more you test out both, the more you will start to learn how it makes a difference, which will make you more confident in the future.

Want to learn more about doing your own product photography? Check out 5 Tips for Better Product Photography

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