Vertical images are becoming rarer. There are three reasons for that: Computers, cell phone cameras, and digicams (small, consumer digital camera).
The reason this concerns me is because many pictures must be shot vertically to be most effective. For example, if you want to get a picture of person who is standing, and you want to emphasize what they are wearing, you would want to shoot vertically.
The pictures below show a less obvious example of when a vertical picture would work better. The subject, being the tallness of the dust storm, isn’t obvious enough that people who are not comfortable shooting vertically would think to try a vertical shot.
Vertical picture of dust storm
Horizontal picture of dust storm
Very few of us use a monitor in the vertical position. The two pictures above are the same size. If you are using a laptop computer, the vertical image almost fills the screen from top to bottom, with huge open spaces on the sides. It is not as pleasurable to look at the vertical image as it is to look at the horizontal image, because the horizontal image fits the dimensions of the monitor much more comfortably.
The pictures below are the same size (21 megapixels), shot from the same spot, and with a fixed focal length 100mm lens. I put the pictures on white backgrounds that are the same aspect ratio as my monitor to show what they look like when viewed on a monitor. The horizontal orientation fills up much more of the monitor, making it easier to see more at a glance. On my monitor, which is about 20×12 inches, it’s like comparing an 8×12 inch vertical image with an 18×12 horizontal image. Consider that pictures viewed in a browser — for example, on a facebook page — will be much smaller.
Vertical picture as viewed on monitor
Horizontal picture as viewed on monitor
The horizontal picture looks larger because the computer didn’t have to shrink the picture as much to make it fit on the monitor. Most people would think the horizontal picture is better because it is easier to see the shopping cart (being the first week of the semester, restless ASU hoodlums had carried the shopping cart to the top of Tempe Butte, and hung it from the fence). But, I feel that the vertical picture is a better, because the tallness of the tower adds to the context.
Most people would throw out the vertical picture, which is a choice that was made because of how the computer displays the picture, rather than what the picture really looks like. Remember how pictures were chosen in the old days, when choices were made by comparing prints, and orientation made no difference?
In addition to the trend of choosing horizontal pictures because monitors and browsers display horizontal pictures better, cell phone cameras and digicams are slightly less likely to get good vertical pictures.
It is important to hold a camera steady when taking pictures that are not supposed to be blurred. Even an un-initiated 14 year old knows to delete a photo when it gets too fuzzy. Blurriness is an issue with any camera, but, it becomes more of a problem with digicams and cell phone cameras because they produce a higher percentage of unusable vertical pictures. And, there are more than 100 times more pictures taken with call phone cameras and digicams than with high quality cameras, so the vast majority of images floating around are from cell phone cameras and digicams.
We’ve always had a tendency to shoot horizontal pictures because cameras have generally been designed to be held horizontally. But, they can usually be held vertically with very little difficulty. That is not necessarily true for cell phone cameras and digicams though.
On a cell phone, the shutter release button (or whatever they call it on a cell phone) is sometimes in a place that is awkward to press when the camera phone is rotated for a vertical picture. Considering how hard it is to hold such a small and light item steady, this is more important than it seems.
You can’t hold a cell phone to your head to get a third point of contact for more stability. The farther you hold something from your body, the less stable it will be.
Digicams are generally not too hard to hold vertically, but, they are still not as comfortable in that position as a professional camera. Digicam users often compose pictures by using the LCD screen on the back of the camera, even though their cameras may have optical viewfinders — Same issue as with the cell phone cameras… the camera needs to be held against the head to get the third point of contact for more stability.
The equipment we are using and the way we view pictures are causing us to produce more horizontal pictures.
What does this mean? Fewer pictures of individual skyscrapers and more pictures of skylines. Fewer pictures of individual people and more pictures of groups of people. Fewer pictures of bridges taken looking down the road, and more perpendicular pictures of bridges. It means we are looking at different things than we used to.