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Should I Be Shooting More In Portrait Mode Since Mobile Devices Are Used So Widely?

Published: 07/08/2015

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orientverticalBilly posed the following question recently:

With there being so much mobile traffic now a days and their native resolutions being in a portrait/vertical orientation vs landscape - have you or any other photographers considered framing more shots in this manner? I've yet to run across a real estate specific website that will auto scale and display portrait oriented photos correctly without just adding space to square them up, but on more specialty websites or property specific ones I can see this being a benefit.

I've always found shooting portrait mode real estate shots generally ineffective because most interior spaces are wider than they are tall. So I avoid portrait mode completely unless I'm doing a shot that I know is for a magazine or portrait mode flyer.

Another big reason for me not to shoot real estate in portrait mode is that most real estate sites as you say don't handle portrait mode well. I find a series of interior photos that switches back and forth from portrait to landscape to be extremely annoying.

You are right about mobile Apps, like the Zillow App, dealing with the switch back and forth from portrait to landscape smoothly and easily. Just rotate the device and either mode looks good.

I still would rather look at interiors in landscape mode unless there is some compelling reason to frame it vertically. It feels more natural. As a confirmation of this, look at all the winners of the still photo contest. A portrait mode photo has never won the monthly contest although many portrait mode photos have been entered.

I recommend only shooting portrait mode only if doing so makes a stronger image or you know you are going to use the image in a vertically. What do others think?

Larry Lohrman

18 comments on “Should I Be Shooting More In Portrait Mode Since Mobile Devices Are Used So Widely?”

  1. OK....maybe it is just me, but I just turn the phone or tablet to view the image in portrait or landscape.
    Maybe not the norm, but the mls around here caters to both formats and it is not an issue

  2. One of the companies I shoot for does not want any portrait aspect photographs. They have more stringent standards than any other I have worked for. Some agents specify they want some verticals for flyers and promotional materials. I used to shoot all the bathrooms (unless large) in portrait, but I have started to get away from that. On occasion there is a shot that just screams out for a vertical aspect, though, and I always take it.

    Definitely think real estate lends to more landscape mode.

  3. Landscape. Always.

    In portrait, you wind up with an annoying amount of floor and ceiling on wider shots. Most web sites are set up for landscape orientation and images in portrait don't utilize the "real estate" very well. I had a bathroom that was skinny and deep today that I made two images for instead of changing orientation. Portrait probably wouldn't have worked given how the bathroom was designed anyway.

    We register things other than people wider and shorter. There is a whole bunch of studies on how our brains process images that is great for photographers to look into. We already know that getting the verticals, vertical is important. POV height is important for RE since we are used to seeing interiors standing up. When we are sitting down, we are generally looking at other people or the TV so shooting a home at doorknob height looks weird. In countries where the average adult height is shorter than in the US, it would be appropriate to adjust the tripod down a bit.

    I have never had an agent ask for images in portrait orientation. An agent I started making images for this week has received offers in one day for the homes photographed on Monday and Tuesday. Just did another one today (Thurs) for her and she swears blind that she's pricing them at the higher end of the comps. Maybe it's serendipity, but I've made another convert. Both owners told her they loved the pictures. Do a good job and check that the results look good online. Don't leave any canvas unused or your images look smaller than everybody else's.

  4. I always take landscape unless specifically asked for publication. Portrait doesn't show well on the web with the side banding. With expired listings where already upset with their former Realtor for not selling the house, have used portrait photos as a cut-throat / salt on wound opportunity "amateur nube who didn't know what they were doing" coupled with dark amateur photography for marketing. OUCH!

    Looking at the photo at the top, while it doesn't have a toilet in it, that is what shows off on floor to ceiling shots, vs a portion of the tank suggesting the rest when landscape. More specifically to that photo, it appeared to cut off a dual vanity - but did have a head shadow???? Plus a better vantage point may have been shifting to the hinge side of the door with a shot down the vanity, using the mirror to show what is opposite. Mid-door may also be better, able to include a pleasing angle on the vanity showing some of the front, while still using the mirror to an advantage.

  5. Agree with Dan B. I, too, shoot the vast majority of my bathrooms (the small ones) in portrait, but thanks to a tip from Kate Benjamin, I crop all of my verticals to a 4x5 ratio. Never have had a complaint.

  6. I don't think we should be letting mobile devices dictate our compositions, particularly not being as rotating the thing takes all of half a second!

  7. @Larry Gray - I didn't intend that portrait image with this post to be representative of anything other than a portrait photo... but I did some research as to where it came from and it turns out that it is from 2000 shot with a Nikon CoolPix 995 with a wide-angle converter on it and shot with the built-in flash on. The shadow towards the bottom is from the wide-angle converter. This is clearly a example of of how NOT to shoot a small bathroom!

  8. First off, THIS is a landscape:

    And THIS is a portrait:

    Photographs, on the other hand, come in two varieties -- Vertical, and Horizontal.

    @ Ken Brown - I've got issues with most of what you said.
    "Landscape. Always." -- that's kind of like saying, about driving a car, "Third Gear. Always." Every photo is different.
    "In portrait, you wind up with an annoying amount of floor and ceiling on wider shots." - That's only true if you compose the shot badly. Remember that you don't have to shoot everything at 10mm. Look carefully through the viewfinder, decide what to include in the photo and what not to include.

    I'll grant you that for most (but not all) real estate purposes horizontal shots are better, but a lot of that depends on the market you're operating in. Around here, websites have no problems with vertical photos, and agents are heavily invested in slick magazine-style brochures that require verticals, squares, and even "banner" aspect ratios. As a wise friend once told me, "If you want to start shooting magazine covers....start shooting magazine covers."

    "We register things other than people wider and shorter. There is a whole bunch of studies on how our brains process images that is great for photographers to look into. POV height is important for RE since we are used to seeing interiors standing shooting a home at doorknob height looks weird."

    Source, please. You're correct that there is a robust body of neuroscience that offers tremendous insight into how the brain "registers" 3-dimensional objects and translates the data from binocular vision into whatever it is that constitutes an image in our heads. Here's a good read:

    But that's exactly why nearly every "good" interiors photo you'll ever see will be taken from something MUCH LOWER than "standing" height (whatever that is). Again, every photo is different but if ever there was a rule of thumb that works, it's that you should NOT have the POV as high as your eye level. We respond much better to a photo taken much lower, often 12" to 24" above a dominant surface in the mid-ground. Unless you're working in an extremely large room (larger than generally found in residential work), having the camera too high, even when "shifted" back down, yields a very awkward result.

  9. I'm with Scott.

    I have never once shot an assignment without including several vertical variants as they are bound to be needed if considered for magazine publishing. The issue with too much floor or ceiling is easily remedied with proper camera height, framing and the use of TS lenses.

    my 2 cents

  10. I've given up trying to do verticals for real estate because 99% of agents have this idea in their heads that verticals are for portraits only, or that they won't "show well" online. It's unfortunate because there are SO MANY opportunities for a strong vertical shot in architecture, but there ya go. If I absolutely HAVE to shoot a vertical because it's the only framing that makes sense, I'll do a diptych to satisfy the realtor's need for horizontality. Shut up spell-check, that's a word.

    I still do verticals quite often for ALL my other shoots (portraits, landscapes, travel, all other architectural shoots).

  11. On an almost-related note, why is it that my fancy Manfrotto geared head doesn't have a bubble level for verticals?

  12. @Scott, Where I am, the MLS handles PHOTOS badly and vertical photos even worse. We are in two very different markets as well. 99.9999% of homes I photograph, a percentage derived from thin air, are never going to be considered for a magazine layout no matter how well I do my work. They are beige, boring and in need of serious interior design work (or a match). The very few that are nice, I try to spend some extra time on to bring back the best images I can so I can, at least, upgrade my portfolio.

    When I say "Landscape. Always." I am expressing MY opinion. You can disagree with it, but you cannot say that I am wrong as that is just YOUR opinion. It's much like the RULE of thirds. It's a good starting point and a good idea to know why you are ignoring it when you choose to do so.

    My customers are not producing printed materials or submitting properties to feature in magazines. They are posting images online via their MLS and on real estate listing sites that are laid out to display images horizontally in a 3:2 aspect ratio. By composing my images for that space they look far larger than those from agents that tend to photograph interiors with their phone vertically oriented. So, there are a few unstated assumptions that go with my opinion. If I am given a layout to make images for, I'll rotate the camera 90° with no second thought.

    I shoot as much of a home's interiors as I can with my 17-40mm on a crop frame sensor camera. My 10-20mm UFWA only comes out for tiny spaces that I can't ignore. With some of the vintage homes in the area with low ceilings maybe I should try my 70-200mm through an open window from the neighbors yard, but going vertical would be a bad mistake. So….. I shoot nothing at 10mm and a vanishingly small number of images as wide as 12mm. I do much more looking through the viewfinder and much less pushing of the shutter button these days. I might even, gasp, move the camera to a different location without taking a picture at all.

    I also don't care for how a gallery flows when the images change from horizontal to vertical and back as I click through listing images on a web page. Displayed in print (magazine, book, brochure) or on a wall, it wouldn't bother me as much. There would still be some symmetry and/or balance in the presentation that isn't there with a slide deck.

    As for the psychology of vision and how we perceive things, I leave finding the sources as an exercise for the student. I've read a bunch of papers from many different sources and since it's been ages since I've had to list those sources at the end of a paper, I just don't keep track anymore. If I ever go back for a graduate degree, I'll have to relearn the practice of keeping track of what I read.

  13. @Scott, The Willats book looks very interesting. Thanks for the lead. I put it on my Amazon wish list. I'd buy it now, but I have a used house that I just bought that is devouring every dime.

  14. Since I finally bought an L bracket a couple weeks ago I am opening up to the world of portraits when shooting RE. Unfortunately, I have a few agents who insisted I don't shoot them, because the software for their virtual tours stretches or distorts the image and they look poor. A lot of other agents don't care, so I have been much more willing to shoot them. It may only happen once or twice a shoot, but I do find the smaller bathrooms much better as verticals.

  15. I agree with most of the posts above. I have a few clients who buy covers of the local print real estate magazines so need some shots shot vertically for that reason. Occassionally, I find that I need to shoot a horizontal for a bathroom but then also shoot a vertical of a shower generally for small bathrooms or interesting corridors. But recently for those problematic bathrooms or walk in closets (that are actually neat enough to shoot) I set my camera on video and do a gentle pan in video. Not useful for MLS but very applicable to virtual tours. Sometimes if a single shot does not capture an interesting ceiling and the interesting floor, I will also do an up/down pan as an added coverage like the bathroom situation. Otherwise, I go completely horizontal which work well with desktops, lap tops and tablets that my clients use to show properties to clients.

  16. NOOOO! Dont ever. NEVER use portrait for real estate photos. I see bad portrait photos in the MLS all the time and what you get is a thin photo with huge white space on both sides (so you wasted 60-70% of your canvas) That skinny photo gets pushed out everywhere. I have seen websites crop your portrait photos and I never thought about the websites that stretch, that would suck. worst it's a portrait photo of a hallway or a bathroom and they look cramped?
    Your clients wont complain about 1 bad skinny photo, if 20 landscape photos look great but the skinny photos are bad service. If all your photos go online, all the real estate websites are optimized for landscape. Maybe there's 1 time you'll WANT to do a portrait photo but it's really going to look like crap on the MLS and most websites. Learn to take landscape, see the samples on Flickr.
    For printed brochures or flyers, portrait looks so much better (like half a house) but you can crop your photos for that.
    Sorry, yes it's an MLS RULE and my pet peeve (I hate skinny photos and no descriptions)

  17. Daniel...not every MLS is the same as yours. Not every real estate photography market is the same as yours. And not every real estate photo is used for MLS anyway. Lots of real estate agents do custom brochures, custom websites, and even blogs where vertical photos are not only OK, but required. Those photos may, or may not, be posted to the MLS, but they'll get heavy use elsewhere.

    If you're having problems with a vertically-oriented photo not working well for a website or a particular MLS, then make a diptych out of 2 verticals so that you are delivering a horizontal JPG composed of 2 photos (make sure there's a nice white or black separating line between them). Works a treat!

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