Creative Field Techniques - Vertical Compositions

You can also view my YouTube video titled "Three Easy Methods for Creating Vertical Compositions."

A horizontal photo gives us a sweeping view of a scene and because most moving subjects move across a horizontal plane, it gives the subject space to move. There are many reasons for using horizontal compositions; however, creative photography should always include vertical compositions because some scenes are more compelling that way. The vertical format narrows our point of view and gives the subject greater emphasis, especially with an interesting foreground that leads the viewer into the scene. A vertical composition can also give the image a bolder or more dynamic appearance by accentuating height or leading lines.

Whether or not a scene looks better vertically or horizontally, a creative photographer should be able to easily choose between a vertical and horizontal composition. In the field, I have three techniques or tools to make it easy to create vertical images, but also make it easy to switch between vertical and horizontal positions.

Technique #1: When shooting wildlife with a large telephoto lens, I most often handhold the camera. To make it easier and less awkward, I attach a vertical grip to my camera, as seen in the photo above. Some cameras come with a vertical grip, but most do not. Those that do not come with a vertical grip can accommodate an attachment like the one in the photo. The benefit of the vertical grip is that it has all the exposure controls and shutter button which allows you to shoot the scene while holding the camera the same way it would be held horizontally. This removes the awkwardness of holding it vertically and therefore, effectively steadies the camera so you can get those sharp images and track a fast moving subject.

Technique #2: Quite often, I use a long lens attached to a tripod to shoot an intimate waterscape or landscape scene. The nice thing about long lenses is they come with a collar that has an attachment for a quick release plate. The quick release plate is what allows the lens (and not the camera) to be mounted on a tripod. The best part about that collar is that once attached to the tripod head, it can be loosened to allow the camera position to change as seen below. It’s as simple as that!

Technique #3: Most of the time when I am shooting water or landscapes, I use a wide angle lens with the camera. On the tripod, the camera can be mounted to the ballhead using a quick release plate. When the camera sits horizontally on the ballhead, its position can be easily changed in any direction by moving the ball. This is fine for horizontal landscapes but not for vertical compositions. To get a vertical format, the camera must be flopped over to one side of the ballhead, as in the photo below. In this position, the ballhead stem is confined within a narrow opening, which allows very little degree of movement. To recompose a scene, the tripod must be moved, which can be awkward and difficult especially when attempting to get a straight horizon line. That is not ideal!

To overcome that problem, I have a simple fix, it’s called an L Bracket, as seen in the photo below. Notice that it looks like a quick release plate but with two sides; and that is exactly what it is, a two-sided quick release plate. The L bracket provides the option of positioning the camera horizontally or vertically. It’s as easy as loosening the plate mount and re-positioning the camera. Very simple!

Each of these techniques will help you to successfully create vertically formatted images. While the photographer always has the option of handholding her camera vertically when shooting wildlife or any scene for that matter, a vertical grip will likely yield sharper and better composed images (especially when attempting to get a straight horizon line). They are a bit pricey, mine cost about $375. If you have a professional-level camera, you may already have a vertical grip. In which case, take advantage of it.

If you use a tripod with your long lens, the lens collar makes it so easy to get a vertical formatted image that it seems crazy not to take advantage of it. And last, if you are using a ballhead for your landscape photography, an inexpensive fix is the L bracket. Just know that L brackets come in a wide range of prices, but they do not have to be expensive. The one I use cost about $40. But make sure it is compatible with your camera. And then go out there and get crazy with those vertical comps!

Learn more about these techniques in my recent video linked here. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at And of course, you can receive individualized instructions in the field or using Photoshop by scheduling a workshop with me.