Portrait vs Landscape: 5 Main Differences

Portrait vs landscape: It’s a difficult comparison because it’s often unclear what’s actually being discussed.

Portrait vs Landscape: 5 Main Differences

After all, we could be talking about:

Well, don’t worry. Because in this article, we’re going to cover them all. You’re going to discover the difference between portrait and landscape in every sense of the words.

Let’s get started.

Portrait vs Landscape: Photography Genre

Portrait and landscape photography are two of the most popular genres out there. But what’s the difference?

Genre of Portrait Photography

Portrait photography refers to images of people taken with the subject’s permission or expectation.

And the portrait genre is known for its dedication to shallow depth of field (for an out-of-focus background), as well as a frequent reliance on studio equipment (for flattering, beautifully-lit results).

Note that portrait photography isn’t just about technique, however. To capture beautiful portraits, you have to capture something of your subject, which often requires connecting with them on a deep level.

Genre of Landscape Photography

Landscape photography is defined as images that include a wider perspective–generally taken in nature, though sometimes in city environments (e.g., urban landscapes).

Note that landscape photographers love a deep depth of field effect, which is the opposite of a shallow depth of field effect (as described above); with a deep depth of field, your entire photo is generally sharp, from front to back.

As with portrait photography, landscape shooting requires gaining a deeper connection with your subject (which is generally the natural world).

Landscape vs Portrait: Photography Technique

Portrait photographers aim for a shallow depth of field effect, in order to separate the subject from the background.

See also: How to Know What Aperture to Use

Landscape photographers, on the other hand, attempt to capture the entire scene as a whole–which means that the photo should be sharp throughout.

Blurring the Background in Portrait Photography

Portrait photographers love a smoothly-blurred background.

Here’s how they do it:

First, portrait photographers use a focal length of around 50mm or longer.

(The longer the focal length, the shallower the depth of field, and the better the background blur.)

Second, portrait photographers use a wide aperture, generally between f/1.4 and f/2.8.

Third, portrait photographers get close to the subject. The closer your lens is to the subject it’s focusing on, the better the blur in the final image.

Put all these pieces together, and you’ll end up with a sharp portrait against a smooth, creamy background.

Maximizing Depth of Field in Landscape Photography

Landscape photographers generally attempt to maximize depth of field–which means ensuring both the nearest foreground element and the most distant background element are tack sharp.

Here’s what you do:

First, select a lens with a wide focal length. The wider the focal length, the deeper your depth of field, all else being equal!

Second, adjust your aperture so that it’s as wide as possible (without sacrificing image quality due to diffraction). I’d recommend an aperture in the f/8 to f/11 range.

And third:

Focus at the hyperfocal distance, which is the point at which you maximize the area of the photo that’s sharp. While there are calculators and apps you can use to determine the hyperfocal distance, a good rule of thumb is to focus around a third of the way into the frame. That way, you’ll get most–and hopefully all!–of the scene sharp.

Portrait vs Landscape: Photo Equipment Selection

As you might expect, portrait photographers and landscape photographers use completely different gear.

But what, specifically, might you find in a portrait photographer’s bag compared to a landscape photographer’s bag?

Equipment for Portrait Photography

Portrait photographers generally use DSLRs or mirrorless cameras. Many of the most serious portrait shooters work with full-frame sensors, as this helps achieve a beautiful shallow depth of field effect while also ensuring better ISO performance in low light.

See also: 35mm vs 50mm Lens

As for lenses, portrait photographers tend to work in the 50mm to 200mm range. Many portrait photographers use a 50mm prime and an 85mm prime, as well as a 70-200mm zoom. Note that the best portrait lenses offer wide maximum apertures (i.e., f/2.8 and below) for a blurred-background effect.

Portrait photographers aren’t especially fond of tripods–portrait sessions tend to be too fast-paced and spontaneous.

But you will find plenty of portrait shooters working with lighting equipment, especially in the studio. This includes external flashes such as speedlights or strobes, modified by umbrellas and softboxes.

Equipment for Landscape Photography

Landscape photographers generally work with full-frame mirrorless and DSLR cameras, though APS-C and Micro Four Thirds systems offer a nice compromise in terms of weight and narrow depth of field.

See also: Best Tripod Brands

Landscape shooters pretty much always carry at least one wide-angle lens, as well as a telephoto lens for tighter landscapes. So you’ll often find landscape shooters with an (approximately) 16-35mm lens, a 24-70mm lens, and a 70-200mm lens.

Unlike portrait photographers, landscape photographers don’t require lenses with wide apertures, since they aim to achieve a deep depth of field. And artificial lighting is almost pointless, given the vastness of the landscape compared to the beam of a speedlight.

But a tripod is pretty much a necessity for landscape photographers, and there are many landscape snappers who don’t go anywhere without one. 

Portrait and Landscape Orientation as Elements of Composition

Now let’s take a look at the difference between landscape and portrait orientations.

Note that photos wider than they are tall have a horizontal orientation, also known as landscape orientation.

And photos taller than they are wide have a vertical orientation, also known as portrait orientation.

See also: Composition – Golden Ratio in Photography

But how do these different orientations affect your images?

Choosing Portrait Orientation Over Landscape Orientation

Portrait orientation emphasizes vertical lines, while doing a good job of fitting subjects/scenes that are tall and compressed.

That’s why portrait orientation is often used when photographing a full-body portrait, a waterfall, buildings, and more.

Portrait orientation

Note that social media minded photographers often photograph (or crop) in portrait orientation to optimize images for viewing on mobile-focused apps, such as Instagram.

Choosing Landscape Orientation Over Portrait Orientation

Landscape orientation emphasizes horizontal lines and is good for vast, sweeping scenes, which is why it’s commonly used for landscape subjects as well as environmental portraits.

Note that landscape orientation allows you to include a lot of negative space around your subject, which in turn creates impactful, minimalist images.

Landscape orientation

Also note that you aren’t necessarily locked into a landscape orientation; you’re always free to crop to portrait orientation, even after you’ve taken an image.

Oh, and if you’re planning on displaying your images on the computer or the TV, landscape orientation is often the way to go.

Portrait vs Landscape: Career Choices

Professional portrait photographers and professional landscape photographers have very different skill sets, different business models, different marketing strategies, and more.

Portrait photography involves a lot of work with clients, both before and during the photoshoot. Landscape photography is more nature-focused and more isolated; you often spend hours walking, hiking, driving, etc., to get that once-in-a-lifetime shot.

Also note that portrait photographers tend to advertise locally, whereas landscape photographers focus on selling prints and/or workshops to consumers around the globe.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you now understand the key differences between landscape vs portrait photography.

And you’re able to decide what works for you!

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by Viktor Elizarov
I am a travel photographer and educator from Montreal, Canada, and a founder of PhotoTraces. I travel around the world and share my experiences here. Feel free to check my Travel Portfolio and download Free Lightroom Presets.