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Friday Photoshare – A Look at Image Orientation for Instagram + Facebook

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Hello and welcome to another Friday Photoshare! I’ve written a lot about the conceptual aspects of photography and some creative editing, so today I wanted take a look at image orientation for Instagram and Facebook. I think bloggers pretty universally want a greater social media reach, so hopefully this little bit of insight will help you!

For ages, I saw Instagram as a place to post square images because, well, it was. This was frustrating when I first got into landscape photography until some friends told me about an app that added white bars to make a “square” with your landscape image. I was so super excited! Even after Instagram introduced the ability to natively upload landscape, portrait, and square images, I kept on keeping on with landscape for a long time. It was a ratio that naturally fit many of my images and I saw no reason to change. I gleefully continued uploading landscape and square images until I watched a CreativeLive class in January that told me I was doing it all wrong. 😱

The class was Developing a Social Media Strategy for Photographers by Colby Brown, and I was lucky enough to catch the free live broadcast. {{As a reminder, links to CL on my blog are not affiliate links. I recommend them purely because I use and enjoy their products. There’s nothing in it for me if you check them out, but I hope that you do for your sake.}} He had concrete numbers that, of course, I failed to write down, but he explained that portrait orientation images capture the most attention on Instagram. Actually, vertical images capture the most attention on virtually every social media platform.

The logic is simple – people increasingly use mobile devices to access social media sites. Screen real estate is limited, and is typically vertical. A portrait-orientation image captures more screen space, which catches more attention. Vertical images have the highest engagement rate on Instagram, followed by the original square. Landscape images come slinking in at last place for engagement. To illustrate the screen real estate point, I opened several on my Instagram posts and screen captured the scene without scrolling down at all. Here are two “portrait” orientation images:

The image basically fills the whole screen! Then we have square images:

We’ve added the “likes” and three lines of text to what’s visible on the screen. Finally we come to the landscape images. Not all are cropped exactly the same, so some are even shorter than others:

I’ve noticed for me, personally, the closer a landscape-orientation image is to square, the better it does. I suspect this is because the image appears larger on screens.

Overall, the narrower landscape images have about 11 lines visible on the screen below the photo. On a vertical image, all this real estate is picture!

It can be very frustrating to crop landscape images to a square or vertical, but whenever I can bring myself to do it I know I get higher engagement. However, unlike Pinterest with its crazy images that go on for miles, Instagram has a height limit. Portrait orientation images need to be cropped to 4×5, or 8×10, in order to avoid additional cropping. As you can see from the screenshots, a 4×5 image dominates the screen on a cellphone. Instagram Stories, on the other hand, record in the traditional video ratio of 16×9. They are also best done in the vertical format for maximum viewing area, which technically makes in a 9×16 ratio.

Vertical video is taking off on other social media platforms, too. Facebook now allows, and encourages, vertical videos. On a computer, they appear in the 9×16 ratio and on mobile they are cropped to 2×3. Facebook recommends shooting in 9×16, but making sure the most important content and any captions are within the 2×3 central area. You can read all about their video guidelines on their advertising page.

By the same token, if you upload a single vertical image to your FB feed, the preview will display as a 2×3 image. (Horizontal images are also scaled to 2×3, which means they become much shorter, take up less screen space, and capture less attention.) As folks probably already know, this 2×3 ratio also works well for Pinterest – images there can be a maximum width:height ratio of 1×2.8 before being cropped. I think everyone is already pretty aware of the fact the vertical images virtually always outperform horizontal images on Pinterest, so I won’t talk about that one any more!

To help you see the difference vertical orientation makes for most social media images, I put together this image in Illustrator. If you click to bring it up full sized, it should show at 100%. Even looking at it scaled down illustrates the incredible difference orientation makes. (As a note – you should save your IG images at double this resolution to allow for zooming and Retina displays – these are the minimum dimensions.)

That Facebook horizontal image is tiny!

I know that cropping a lovely landscape image to a square or vertical can be difficult. It can feel like you’re “ruining” the image or completely destroying the scene, but if you’re looking to boost your social media engagement, you need to try to use at least some portrait-orientation images.

If you’re a landscape junkie like I was, here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Begin moving towards a more square format first. Try cropping landscapes to a 5×4 (10×8) ratio, then move to 1×1.
  • As you shoot images, try to bear a more square or vertical format in mind. If you have a DSLR and a landscape lens, try using the lens vertically. You’ll be surprised by how much fun it is!
  • As you become more confident with cropping and shooting with a square or vertical format in mind, shift towards posting more 8×10 ratio images.
  • Remember that you absolutely can post lovely horizontal photos, but the more vertical photos you have, the higher your engagement will be.

If you’re looking for answers to more pressing Instagram questions, please stop by my post on how I’ve worked to grow my following without bots or gimmicks and Rose’s post 5 Common Instagram Questions Answered!

I really hope this look at image orientation for Instagram and Facebook helps you out and that you’re able to get the higher social media engagement you’re looking for!

Do you have a favorite image orientation? Have you already naturally gravitated towards vertical images?

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Duni March 27, 2017, 04:18

    Interesting stats! I use vertical if I have a number of products I want show all in one place. I use square if I want to focus on just one piece 🙂
    That top photo is amazing!

    • Natashalh March 28, 2017, 13:06

      Thank you! It was taken at one of my favorite spots on the opposite side of the island.

      It sounds like you’re already on top of the IG game because you naturally use the best two formats! It was so hard for me to stop posting landscape images (and I still do sometimes!)

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