How can you use portrait orientation in your landscape photos?

Landscape or portrait orientation?

It’s all in the name and the fact that we call the horizontal photo orientation ‘landscape’ leaves little doubt what the orientation of your camera should be when photographing landscapes… but are we really sure? I will show you some photos I took in Arizona, and they will all be in portrait orientation. You can judge yourself, but sometimes the vertical orientation really works.

Cacti and shadows

The Saguaro National Park are actually two parks; East and West, one on each side of Tucson in Arizona – US. The park is within the Sonora desert. The Saguaro National Park is of course famous for the Saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea). This cactus looks like a man with the arms raised. The ‘arms’ only start to grow after about 70 years and they become really gigantic, up to 13 meters tall. They can live up to 300 years. A really remarkable plant and I’m happy that this NP was created for their conservation.

We were going to Signal Hill in the West part as I knew there are some ancient petroglyphs that overlook the park. On the way we stopped and I saw these long shades of the Saguaro cactus on the road.

Giant shadow (Canon 6D with EF 24-105 mm f/4 IS USM @ 24 mm – ISO100 – f/8 – 1/160 s)

The most difficult part of photography is probably to find an interesting composition. Here it was not so much the Saguaro that intrigued me, but the shade it casted on the road. I decided on a very low viewpoint and a wide angle so that the shade would be the prominent feature. I ‘hid’ the sun behind the saguaro, sat down on my knees and took this photo. Looking at my first shot I noticed the cloud and re-positioned to have it almost at the top of the cactus, like a smoking cigar. I changed color of the entire photo to a yellow/ochre using the split toning in Adobe’s Lightroom and accentuated the yellow of the double line on the road.


Short before sunset we arrived at Signal Hill and we walked to the top. From here you have a beautiful view on the surrounding hills and the landscape is covered with saguaros.

The most beautiful thing is that this must have been an important site for the Native Americans who lived here, because many rocks show petroglyphs with symbols. I have chosen this energy symbol of a spiral that looks like the sun, or even a chakra, as my foreground subject. The spiral is an ancient symbol of never-ending cycles, of growth and evolution. Taking a photo with the setting sun as another symbol of a never ending cycle of day and night seemed appropriate in this silent and natural place. Being in such a quiet place, where Nature is so present, makes me feel part of this beautiful planet we call Earth. Being able to take photos of these places is something special.

Centered in the Universe (Canon 6D with EF 24-105 mm f/4 @ 24 mm – ISO 100 – f/16 – 0,4 s)

Post-processing of this photo was fairly striaghtforward. I have add a bit more contrast and darkened the sky a little. I have sharpened the rock with the spiral as this is the main subject of this photo.

Vertical orientation

These two photos show another important  possibility we have when taking photos and that is the portrait orientation. Of course when photographing people this is often used, and hence the name, but in landscape photography, especially beginning photographers  hardly use the vertical orientation. Vertical orientation gives more emphasis to vertical lines like the saguaro in the first photo. In the second photo the rock’s triangular shape creates a movement upwards, like an arrow that’s pointing in the distance. The portrait orientation accentuates the direction of the arrow.

The photo below creates a contrast between the saguaros on the crest of the hill and the spines of the cacti that light up with the low sunlight. The cacti in the foreground lead the eye to the silhouettes of the saguaros in the background.

Using backlight for contrast and silhouettes (Canon 6D with EF24-105 mm f/4 @ 50 mm – ISO 200 – f/14 – 1/80 s)

When taking photographs of landscapes it’s easy to be captured by its vastness, but remember the details the landscape is made of. So every now and then, take a look to what is right in front of you, like the spines of this cactus below.

Remember the details (Canon 6D with EF24-105 mm f/4 @ 92 mm – ISO 200 – f/4 – 1/250 s)

This post shows a few photos from another beautiful place on this beautiful planet. Nature is all around us, so keep your eyes open and your camera ready.

I hope this post also made you realize that you can turn your camera 90 degrees to create different compositions, with different possibilities. So once you’ve taken some photos in landscape orientation, see if your subject lends itself to portrait orientation as well. Try it and let us know what your results are.

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