Turn That Camera

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"Retail Heritage" by D. Travis North

"Retail Heritage" by D. Travis North

I want to do a quick exercise:  Grab your camera and pull it to your eye.

Now take notice of how you’re holding it.  Is it horizontal (in landscape), or is it vertical (portrait)?  Unless you’re a portrait photographer (and nothing else) I’m expecting that you pulled the camera to your eye horizontally.  It’s not your fault.  Cameras are made pretty much only one way:  Shutter button on the right and on top of the camera.  Any camera that deviates from this design ultimately fails, and so manufacturers rarely make an attempt to do so.  So you’re pretty much stuck with the model.  But with the button on the top and right of the camera, the most comfortable position, ergonomically, is horizontal.  Though it may not be comfortable, though it might be against your natural grain…you need to turn your camera more.

Why Portrait

Shooting vertically – in portrait – increases the vertical component.  This is of course has a tremendous benefit for portrait photographers, as if that isn’t painfully obvious consider its namesake.  But shooting in portrait isn’t just for shooting portraits.  Rotating the camera helps you to incorporate elements into your photos that would normally be lost.  Let’s start with an obvious example:  Tall buildings, such as the classic Strawbridge’s Building that I shot for Retail Heritage (top right), demand you to shoot in portrait.  We want to see the looming shape and size of that building.  There’s no better way to capture it.

But what about other scenarios?  Outdoors, shooting in portrait helps you to incorporate more of the sky, or more of the ground – or what-have-you.  You can use these elements to give your subject a sense of scale.  You can use these areas to add drama, or simply yield to negative space.  But don’t feel that you necessarily need to rotate to fit your subject.  Cut your subject off.  Put it into a form and a shape that is unnatural.  Create that tension, and you might find yourself with a great photograph.

"Moon Rising Over Frozen Lake Naomi" by D. Travis North

"Moon Rising Over Frozen Lake Naomi" by D. Travis North

Holding For Portrait

This seems like a semantic discussion, but it’s one worth bringing up.  Clearly, there are two ways to hold the camera vertically.  I believe there’s only one correct way to hold it:  Your right hand should be on top.  Your left hand should be supporting the lens on the bottom, where it should always be.  This is more ergonomic, and of course more comfortable.  But this hand positioning and grip isn’t just about comfort.  It’s about stability.  A wrist extension (palm facing outward) is not nearly as strong as a grip with a wrist flexion (palm inward) when gripping something as heavy as a camera.  Not to mention that many of cannot extend our hands nearly as much as we can flex.  The result is an unsteady hold on the camera.  There’s little you can do to stabilize the camera if your right hand were underneath and trying to use the shutter button.

If you have room in your budget, I would recommend acquiring a vertical grip for your camera.  A vertical grip is a beneficial accessory, both from a comfort and a stability perspective.  It would fasten to the bottom of your camera and provides you with an additional shutter button on the side for use while shooting in portrait rotation.  Very often, it also offers an extended battery.  Many pro-bodies have the vertical grip built in.

Final Thoughts

If you find that your photography is a little stagnant, turning your camera could be the solution.  Shooting in portrait will change your perspective.  It will change the way you look at thing, frame things and approach a subject. So give it a try on your very next session.

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About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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