Vermillion Lake Reflection

Vertical Vs Horizontal Composition: Which one is better?

The answer is ??? ???It depends on the subject???. A good starting point would to follow the orientation of the subject. If your subject is horizontal, start with horizontal framing or if your subject is vertical, start with vertical framing. If your subject is not clearly oriented in either way, follow the lines or tilt your camera a bit and see which composition provides a better perspective.

In the following example of the Reflection of mountains on the Vermillion Lake, the horizontal image does a better job of providing a perspective than the vertical one. Vertical image seems to have lot of empty space that is not complimentary to the reflections.

  Reflection - Not so great for Vertical Composition

Below are two images of the same winding road on the way to Palouse Falls. Which one do you prefer? We think vertical composition easily trumps the horizontal. The horizontal composition in this case, has a lot of empty space that is not complimentary to the image.

Winding Road - Vertical Composition

There are other cases where the main subject is neither horizontal nor vertical. In the following example, you can see the ramp that is leading somewhere. Horizontal composition is well suited here since it expands in the direction that the people are going and helps convey a sense of place and direction. The empty spaces compliment the image.

People walking on a ramp

In the images of the stairs leading to the house below is an example where the vertical composition conveys the sense of height and hence is more interesting than the horizontal.

Colorful House composed verticallyColorful House composed horizontally

Just remember that there is no hard rule and there are always exceptions! Try both perspectives and over the time you will automatically start picking the right ones for your subject!