I've decided to post this discussion based on some comments I've seen on my work and work of other photographers. It seems that it is perceived that there is a difference between how a landscape photographer and portrait photographer compose an image. Is there? Both want the same result: images that are pleasing to the viewer's eye without distraction, and without awkward crops. Though, the two categories of photographers seem to accomplish this by entirely different visions. Or are they different? (Some) landscape photographers tend to want entirety, and that is not necessarily true for portrait photographers, but for some it is.
One element that, in my opinion, leads to both a successful portrait and landscape, is getting the entire subject in the frame. Whether the subject is the whole of something or a piece of something, the subject must be in the frame in entirety.
This is a very simple image, utilizing some of the most basic elements of photography: time of day for light IE sunset in this case, colors, framing, and lines. This image appears on your screen more or less how it appeared in the viewfinder of my camera. Had I gotten only part of one of the windmills in the frame, it would have brought an awkwardness to the outside of the photograph, and it would change how effective it is as an image. Had I gotten too much sky or too much of the black ground, the same thing would have happened.
Had I gotten this with a grayish-blue sky, it would have changed the mood of the image that is achieved with the color. Had the cloud lines been higher, accenting the sky above the windmills, it also would have changed the scene (though I can only credit weather for working out that part of the photo for me.) The hills are curved lines, which harmonize the straight lines in the clouds............. (click read more)
The same basics are essentials to portrait photography as well. When photographing a model, it is important to make sure the crop is appropriate in order to not make her look awkward. For example, cropping at the neck without shoulders makes people look like their neck goes on forever!
Cropping at the elbows or knees can make people look like amputees! So the easiest way, naturally, to make someone look like a whole, real person, is to do a full-length portrait. However, lighting is also important. So is time of day (if you're doing an on-site portrait.) Lines are also very important. You don't want anything in the background bisecting your subject awkwardly (like through the neck, or out of the top of the head, etc.) The image below is a relatively-simple full length portrait ("Snowshoe Man" - Taken on Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado in 2008):
There are lines in this image - the diagonal line of slope of the hill hits in his torso, at the widest part of his body, and the vertical lines of his poles, and the trees do not cut through his body in any awkward places. There is an implied line formed by his snowshoe toward where his trajectory would expected to continue. If this image were brighter with the colors, it would not show how cold this place was. The man is entering the frame, which shows that he is expected to continue into the frame more. This is less-awkward in portrait photos than having a subject leaving a frame with a whole bunch of space behind, though there are uses for that as well. (This image would be boring were it not for the person, who is the subject - and I would have grabbed the whole tree on the right, like any landscape photographer probably would do had the trees been the subject instead.)
So do landscape photographers crop or move in close to subjects? Do they use implied lines? I follow some other landscape photographers, who most-certainly do utilize the details of an image. Sometimes the sky inhibits the shot, so they don't have sky in the photo. When shooting with Jay and Varina Patel, two such photographers, Jay said, "If there are distractions in your shot, zoom in and focus on the details." The image below ("The Great Sphinx at Giza" taken in Giza, Egypt in 2012) is by far my most-popular landscape photograph of all time and has been on two magazines, sold as prints, and gone wild all over the Internet. But you can't see the whole image. It utilizes implied lines! I zoomed in and focused on the details.
So then if the image is successful... what makes it that way? Had I cropped the pyramid at the point, the line would have continued going on forever, and the pyramid would look infinitely tall, and that's not how tall the pyramid is. Had I only gotten part of the sphinx's face, it would have been equally as detrimental to the photograph. Similarly, the pyramid's diagonal line is hitting the sphinx at a flattering place instead of across the face. Light was key for this photo. I added a few synthetic golden-colored lights to the image to bring out more gold tones to the sphinx as the sun was hitting the pyramid instead. I needed to wait for a nice cloudy day in January at sunset to get the color in the sky with the clouds. A blue sky would have been boring!
Some have said before that I shot this image like a portrait photographer! (Ok so? And what does that even mean?) I also throw like a girl, by the way. How would a landscape photographer have approached this image? Based on some work I've seen by some, I'd say they may compose it similarly if they had the same things to deal with as distractions in the foreground.
The same fundamental of zooming in and focusing on the details comes in to play with portraits, and it is equally important to make sure that lines bisect at natural places (I bet you never thought you'd use geometry in real life, did you?) and that the crop leaves an accurate implication as to where the lines continue. The image below ("The Joker") was taken in a place with lots of distractions, so it was essential to zoom in and capture the subject as a head shot.