Should you be taking your pet photos in portrait or landscape orientation? Which is best? When should you choose one version over another? In this blog post we’ll be having a look at both options, and finding out why one might reign supreme, and be a better choice (despite what the rest of the internet says about creating photos for Instagram.)
After doing a critique for my Learning Community members recently, I noticed that a fair few of the photos submitted were in portrait orientation – meaning, they were vertical. Some had a dog standing parallel to the camera, squashed into the frame, with nowhere to look, and a huge amount of unnecessary space above and below. After asking around, the reason people seem to be favouring portrait orientation is this:
Somewhere along the way, someone, or some article has told them that in order to be successful on Instagram, their photos must be in portrait orientation.
If you don’t know me, you mightn’t be able to picture my face right now, but it’s something like this:
I just don’t buy that one should sacrifice potentially interesting, high-quality, impactful images, for the sake of a social media platform. Which isn’t to say that portrait orientation photos can’t be all those things, however I do believe Landscape to work better for our pet photos for many reasons.
Let’s have a look at the different orientations and see if we can decide what is best for us. You’ll notice I don’t mention “square” below. Square always feels strange to me, but hey, if you can make it work, then go for it.
Portrait orientation obviously gives us a lot of vertical space, with a narrow horizontal space. As our dogs are generally horizontal animals, this can make things a little tricky.
When might we choose to take a photo in portrait orientation?
- A tall scene that is best vertically. Skyscrapers, a person standing, a tall, imposing tree.
- Photos where there is nothing but the dog. Which, for whatever reason, works better without needing a lot of context or scene.
- Dog and owner photos CAN work better in portrait orientation
- Looking down from above photos can work better in portrait orientation
- Photos with the dog directly facing the camera, straight on, with something interesting above and/or below them, that needs the height to make an impact.
Personally, I prefer landscape orientation, as stated above. Here’s why:
- More context. We get more of a sense of the scene, the dog’s place within it, the background etc. It’s a complete scene.
- More editing options. We may be able to emphasise or work with light or the direction of light, crop in and so on. In portrait orientation, we can work on the dogs, and then we’re pretty much done. Of course there are exceptions, but the options are more limited because we have less space to work with.
- More posing/storytelling options. In Landscape, a dog can be posed any way – straight on to the camera, curved, parallel and so on. To try these options in portrait, the dog would need to be much further away in order to not be cramped in the frame, and there would be a LOT of empty space above and below them.
- It makes more sense. Dogs are 4 legged animals, who are naturally horizontal to the earth. Therefore, a horizontal photo makes more sense than a vertical one, in most cases.
Creating for Instagram
Here’s the thing, there’s a reason this “advice” to take photos in portrait orientation for IG irks me so much. When we create, who are we creating for? What are we creating for?
I’m not talking about professional pet photographers. This applies to anyone who is just taking happy snaps of their dog, or who is doing a paid shoot for a client. What is the reason for taking photographs? Why are we choosing to take that photo?
Or for us?
Or for love?
I know which one I would choose, again and again, and again. Have I thought about how well a photo will do on the Gram? Have I set up shoots/scenes which I’m sure IG will enjoy it? Of course! Do I create FOR Instagram? No. Not at all. After all, Instagram doesn’t pay me. Instagram doesn’t have any hold over what I do. It doesn’t dictate what, why or how I create. The majority of my students come from Instagram, and the reason they came? Because my work is mine. It is authentic and powerful, it tells stories, it is creative or contemplative or joyful. It is mine. And I will always choose to take beautiful photos over what Instagram will “like” or not like.
And on my account with just over 23,000 followers (growing daily pretty steadily), solid engagement, and the most amazing and supportive group of followers, and 98% of my photos in landscape orientation, I would wonder if that “advice” meant anything at all. Look at any “big name” photographer out there and note how many of their photos are in portrait orientation. My guess would be “very few” and yet they have massive followings.
Don’t create for Instagram, the way that will “look best” on a phone screen.
Create something beautiful, something wonderful, something with heart and story and purpose. The people who like it, will like it – not because it takes up space as they scroll past, but because it makes them stop a moment and wonder at what you have created.
Create for love. Not for likes.