Sideways thinking

We as human beings have evolved to see things horizontally. Our field of view spans about 200 degrees side to side, though much of that is peripheral vision, while our vertical sight range is around 150 degrees. Yet we insist on taking photos with our cellphones vertically. It’s not a problem with DSLR cameras because, while they can be turned vertically, they’re built to be held horizontally.

(4/23/16) A chair on the campus of U.C. Santa Cruz.Taken with an Apple iPhone 5. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

But cellphones are designed to be held in the vertical position so that one can make a phone call easily. It’s this up and down design makes one-handed picture taking easy.

(3/28/17) The ceiling in the Library Congress in Washington D.C. Taken with an Apple iPhone 5. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

When you turn your phone sideways, it’s much more difficult to use it with one hand. It almost necessitates using your phone with both hands. We’ve all done it: held the phone between thumb and forefinger in one hand, with the other fingers held up daintily, while we press the shutter button on the screen with a finger of the other hand. Why do that when you can just hold the phone vertically and take a picture all with a single hand?

(8/3/19) A set of glasses sits on a shelf in a restaurant in San Luis Obispo. Taken with an Apple iPhone XS. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

The problem is that we see most things horizontally. For example, If you’re taking a photo of a group of friends who are posed in a horizontal setup, then you have to back up to get them all in the frame. This makes them appear smaller because their father away, plus it also creates a lot of empty, unused space, compositionally speaking, at the top and bottom of the picture.

(3/10/19) A woman jogs with her dogs under a canopy of clouds at Don Nottoli Park in Elk Grove. Taken with an Apple iPhone XS. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

By simply turning the phone sideways, you can often get closer to your subjects and eliminate unwanted visual clutter at the same time.
When shooting an image of nature it’s often best when shot horizontally. There’s a reason that they call it “landscape” mode. We look at a mountain range, or a sunset on the sea, we usually see a panorama that goes side to side.

Examples of when to shoot vertically or horizontally. LEFT: (6/18/13) Christopher Oto, left, shares a tender moment with his sister Claire Oto at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. RIGHT: (5/27/13) Christopher Oto, right, leads his fellow Boy Scouts from Troop 50 in a Memorial Day flag ceremony at the Oddfellows Cemetery in Sacramento. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

When photographing a portrait, shooting vertically tends to be preferable when there are only a few people (1 to 3), but when the group gets larger, shooting horizontally almost becomes a necessity to get everyone in frame
Of course, there are times when shooting vertically is necessary. Subjects such as trees, tall buildings or flag poles by themselves lend themselves to a vertical composition. But if try think about how to get the most out of each frame when taking pictures with your cellphone then I’m willing to bet most of your photos will be shot horizontally.

(2/9/15) A weathered basketball hoop in the Delta town of Courtland. Taken with an Apple iPhone 5. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]


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