Appreciating the Vertical Image

Seize the Vertical

With 35mm film cameras, DSLRs, mirrorless…MOST cameras, it takes some extra maneuvers for the vertical frame. Horizontal photos are easy: You hold the camera, right hand at the right and left hand at the left. For verticals though, do you put right hand over the left? Or do you hold it the other way around?

Now your arms look like a pretzel.

Traverse City, MI
Camera: Leica M6

It’s a simple enough technique to figure out but sometimes, most times, the tendency is to photograph and achieve the horizontal results. With phones now though, verticals are actually easier.

After looking at my body of work some months ago, it was evident that there was a crazy lack of verticals in my gallery of images.

The thing is, I LOVE verticals. They’re fun to make, they offer a wonderful perspective and there is usually no other orientation I’d want to see when it comes to a photograph, or painting, displayed on .

Traverse City, MI
Camera: Leica M6

Recently, the need for a photo walk was heavy so I ventured out with the mindset of “I’m going to capture verticals.” My Leica 35mm M6 at my side, loaded with Kodak Portra 400 film, I set out to see what I could find.

There’s a business development about two miles away from home that constantly draws me in for photography. It has clean backgrounds and simple lines; difficult characteristics to obtain in the tree-filled surroundings of northern Michigan. There’s an old car wash as well as a furniture store and laundromat. It may not draw you or other people in, but it certainly appeals to my appreciation for banal and beautiful photography. Oftentimes, the simpler the better, and that’s what this development provides.

Traverse City, MI
Camera: Leica M6

Composing Within a Vertical Frame

The 28mm lens that I often use is important because it forces the photographer to approach close to the subject. It’s taken some time but after becoming familiar with the close proximity, it’s a favorite lens. It’s a prime lens also which I can’t recommend enough. It forces one to move the feet and to learn how to use one focal length.

Traverse City, MI
Camera: Leica M6

If you haven’t tried this yet, you definitely should. Learn your equipment, whatever it is; take time and practice, practice, practice. When you’re comfortable and knowledgeable with the technical aspects of the camera, that’s when you can focus more on the art of photography.

An old ‘Car Wash’ sign caught my attention. The lettering font dated the sign beautifully, as did the lettering color. Across the parking lot, maybe 40 yards away, was a couch facing toward the wall. The abstract nature of this scene drew me in and I photographed it. An area like this is ideal for when one is inspired by the “New Topographics” movement and minimalism.

Traverse City, MI
Camera: Leica M6

With vertical images, it has taken me a while to compose well. At first, there was a lot of negative space at the top and bottom of the frame. This can be cool, but I was trying to fill the frame with interesting subject matter. With time, practice and patience, I’ve started to improve on my vertical compositions, at least, to my liking. Sometimes it’s fun to take a while to compose a photo and sometimes it’s fun to photograph instinctually; when you photograph a lot, you’ll find which methods and techniques work best for you.

Traverse City, MI
Camera: Leica M6

My next stop was in downtown Traverse City. After parking and walking, I traveled through some neighborhoods that have a variety of homes from old to modern. One, in particular, caught my eye with cursive house numbers. I stepped back a bit to photograph this scene because I wanted to show the house in its environment of trees and street.

Practice composing and photographing in the vertical format, that’d be my suggestion and takeaway. Anything you can do to challenge yourself and flex your creative muscles will make you a much more well-rounded photographer; plus, you could have a lot of fun doing it.

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use the more you have.”

~Maya Angelou

2 thoughts on “Appreciating the Vertical Image

  1. I’ve always drastically preferred portrait orientation when I’m shooting. Even though I suppose there’s a little pretzeling involved, it has always just seemed easier for me to “see” things in that way. I tend to more quickly find a pathway and lines of interest in compositions, a lot better. whereas in horizontal/landscape it’s trickier, less decisive process for me framing things up even if I’ve found what I’m looking for. And I tend to make more mistakes that I notice later.

    Great essay, Keith! That fourth frame down of the car wash is my favorite, love the playful intersection of color and texture, the way the color of sprayer hose and cladding above cinder block go together . Reminds me of a place one would go for sherbet cone, not a car wash, lol. Btw, I did see the photo essay on Muskegon. I enjoyed that one, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment! It’s always a pleasure seeing a message from you, especially because you’re so good at crafting them.

      Sounds like you’ve already embraced the vertical photo, well done. I loved that you used the word ‘pretzeling’. Photography has been fascinating, to me, in how it can evolve and change over time. Still, I’ll see something that I don’t think will look too great and in a photographic form it does. It’s wonderful. It reminds me of a Garry Winogrand quote: “I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed.”

      Thank you again for your comment.


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