In a recent blog post, we looked at how the latest Canon EOS Mirrorless Camera, the R5, has been revolutionising photography and discussed the ‘role of the photographer’ as cameras become smarter than ever. During my conversation with our photographer, David Fisher, we also touched upon the age-old debate of landscape vs portrait and how cultural domination has meant that one way of viewing the world has traditionally been favoured over the other.

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Landscape vs portrait

I started by asking David about the practicalities of landscape vs portrait as a photographer and why it’s still such an issue.

When you’re taking a photograph for a client, we ask them the question, ‘Do you want these horizontal or vertical?’ Typical response is, ‘Can we have both?’ and then, they’ve got flexibility to use those images in different ways. It’s not always practical or possible to get both because obviously if you’re photographing a wide landscape, it’s not going to look very good in vertical, but there are some shots that you can easily recompose either way.

The other thing to bear in mind is that a horizontal image will usually crop more easily to vertical than the other way around, just because we tend to view things in a horizontal way. Seeing in a more vertical way is becoming more popular now with the iPhone, but up until recently that wasn’t the case. If you think about the iPhone 13, which has just come out, it is the first iPhone that incorporates vertical video. That’s testament to the fact that, up until now, we’ve really been living in a horizontal world.

You know, TVs are horizontal, aren’t they? You go to the cinema, it’s not a vertical screen. So, we’re kind of conditioned to view everything horizontally.

Has that always been the case?

No actually – back in the day, professional medium format cameras like Hasselblad broke that mould by producing a square format negative. The reason that square is beneficial is you don’t have to worry about it being vertical or horizontal, which is why the square format’s so nice, because you never have to worry about, ‘Should I shoot it this way or that way?’

Photographers tended to produce a lot of square images, but Hasselblad’s intention was that with such a large negative area you would just crop the image how you like it. So, you would take your square image, then crop it to horizontal or to vertical. That gave you a little bit more flexibility in your post-production as well.

If you think about it, one of the most classic and popular examples of that is Polaroid which, if not quite square, was close enough.

Has social media impacted on this question of ratio?

When Instagram first came out, they only allowed you to post in a square format. That’s the only kind of image that you could upload, and it’s only been in the last three or four years where you have the portrait or landscape option. This whole concept of cropping and format which Hasselblad tried to remove itself from by saying, instead of a 2:3 ratio camera we are going to provide a 1:1 ratio but you, as the photographer, can choose where you crop. If you want a long panoramic at 16:9, then have it. We are whatever ratio you want to be, and 1:1 is as close to that as you could get.

What impact do you think the internet and evolving devices have had?

When you think about the way the internet has evolved and websites and social media, even when the designer of a website knows exactly how an image is going to be used, such as, they want to have an image of a lovely landscape on the homepage, even when they know specifically the image and where it will be used, they don’t know how it’s going to be displayed, because it’s completely dependent on the user’s device. It’s responsive to their device which could be sideways (horizontal) or upright (vertical).

It’s more likely to be portrait, because people are looking at websites on their phones?

Yes, as a result, photographers have to be a lot less precious about something that they used to be very precious about, and that is the cropping. Compositionally, when you’re taking a photo, largely the photographer is in control of the composed image, whereas now you can take an image and it can be cropped or you can zoom in or zoom out on various aspects and entirely change it.

That’s an interesting point – so it’s the user maybe who is in control?

Yes, the user is deciding on the composition, aren’t they, effectively? So who knows, but it’s clear that portrait is here to stay and we might start seeing the world in a completely different way!