Denver corporate headshot with brick wall backdrop

Why Photography Headshots Horizontally Instead of Vertically?

By Douglas Gritz

Denver Photographer

Example of headshots framed vertically.

For as long as headshots have been a thing they have traditionally been shot with a vertical frame. For the first headshot session I ever did I, too, shot them vertically because I thought that was just the way you did it. Heck, what did I know? But something bugged me about them. They felt odd and … cramped.

So for my next headshot session I tried them horizontally. Bam! These I liked much better. But why?

1) Our natural field of view is lateral. Our eyes are placed side by side, not on top of each other. So when we talking to someone in person we are seeing them with a natural horizontal frame. Headshots framed horizontally simply act how we are already used to seeing people.

2) When we connect with people in person, what are we focused on? That’s right, their eyes. Not their throat, neck, arms, chest or torso, the things you might find in a vertically framed photograph. These are just distractions. Horizontally framed headshots eliminates these distractions and places the focus on where it should be — the eyes.

3) The third reason comes down to a little bit of compositional science — namely, the rule-of-thirds. That rule shows us that an object in a frame placed dead center creates less visual interest than if it was placed at one of the intersecting rule-of-third points. For headshot photography, the focal point is the eyes. In vertical headshots, where are the eyes usually? Dead center horizontally and sometimes in the upper fourth vertically. In other words, in a very boring spot. Not what we want. Maybe we can slide the subject over to the right or left, but then we are left with a weird crop down one side of the body. Not what we want, either. A horizontal frame allows to frame a headshot with the eyes off center in a rule-of-third position that adds dynamism and visual interest to the photograph.

What does this mean for the client? Often your cropping options for headshots are constrained by the platform. Social media profiles on websites Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter all use a square crop. Squares are not a very dynamic frame. But even with horizontal headshots you have the flexibility to crop in on the sides and keep the focus on the eyes while leaving the distracting elements out.

Example of a headshots with a horizontal frame.

Rule-of-thirds diagram for headshots photography

Company websites offer a lot more flexibility. If you are doing vertical headshots now, consider a small redesign that allows you to showcase your staff members with horizontal headshots instead. After all, your “about” page is there to gain a connection with your viewers and customers, right? A horizontal headshot is going to help you achieve that goal a lot better than a vertical headshot.

For more examples of how powerful headshots framed horizontally can be, check out my Denver headshots services page.

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