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Inspiration: Vertical Images From History That Altered The Way I See The World by Bradley Hanson

To address my feelings about vertical photographs, to share some of my favorite vertical images from history, and to discuss why I regularly shoot vertical photographs with my wedding work, I’ve decided to create this blog post to provide additional insight. The four images above are some of my favorites from my wedding photography career. You can view my wedding images via the two galleries under “portfolio,” or you can view my favorite vertical wedding images through this link here.

With some regularity, I get messages from photographers commenting about the vertical images I’ve posted on Instagram (@bradleyhansonphotography) or on my website. Some of them ask about shooting vertical images at weddings, others are about vertical images in general or “how do I get started when I only photograph horizontally,” etc. I’m happy to share my thoughts as I am very excited about this format. I don’t talk about equipment much because it’s not a priority for doing good work, but to me, there is a sweet spot between 50mm and 90mm that lends itself well to vertical images. Normal to short telephoto focal lengths can assist the photographer in creating compositions that tend to make the vertical orientation easier to see. There are countless exceptions to this, of course, and some of them can be seen in the historical gallery I’ve created below, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Square format images remove this consideration altogether. I photographed weddings for a few years with Hasselblad square format cameras and film. The format was easy to work with, and once you get into the zone with seeing in the square format, everything seems to fit. (The main challenge with weddings with that system was the slow f2.8 and f4 lenses in low light, not the format itself). When I make photographs with my iPhone, I crop them square as a separate discipline. I’ve also created a separate gallery for those, which you can see as a menu option from my portfolio heading on the upper right.

In 1987, I bought Ralph Gibson’s book “Tropism,” from the bookstore at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. I had seen vertical images before, of course. They are not new, and many of the images in the gallery below are from the 50s and 60s, most likely a Leica M3 camera with a 50mm lens. Still, there was something about Ralph Gibson’s high contrast vertical images that made them even more abstract and surreal. While paging appreciatively through the book, I discovered that one of my favorites, the glowing hand at the opening door, was an image I’d seen before on the inner sleeve of Joy Division’s classic 1979 record, “Unknown Pleasures.”

The simple act of buying this book changed my perspective on photography forever. I didn’t suddenly starting shooting only vertical photographs, but I often found myself seeking out compositions in that format and trying to change the way I saw the world to be open to this exciting format. The 3:2 ratio of 35mm film (aka “full frame” in digital format) also lends itself better to vertical compositions because it closely approximates the “golden ratio.” (Click here to read the Wikipedia page about the concept).

I’ve redesigned my wedding portfolio to feature my vertical images, something of an anomaly in this industry that appears to be 99% horizontal. I get it. Walk into a wedding reception and you see the tables spread out wide. Go to the ocean and you see width. Our eyes are side by side, not on top of each other. For these reasons and more, vertical images can be compelling as they are outside of our day to day perspective. Ralph Gibson referred to vertical images as having a “tension” in the way they can make it feel like the frame is compressed. He even had an exhibit called “The Vertical Horizon.”

To see more Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN portraits, wedding photography and weddings all over the world, visit my main portfolio on bradleyhanson.com or email me at info@bradleyhanson.com or call me at 206-393-8292 and we can discuss your wedding plans in detail.