Imagine logging into your Netflix queue to binge-watch Friends only to find a vertical screen in place of your horizontal one. This new screen cuts out all of the background; you can't see Central Perk, Monica and Rachel’s apartment, or the fountain from the opening credits. The focus of each shot would be the same, but the context would be gone.
Most content producers—from news teams to film crews—consider horizontal shots to be the industry standard. To them, vertical video will always be the sign of an amateur. At the Journalism Interactive Conference this spring, one videographer with decades of experience in leading newsrooms said you could pry horizontal video as the industry standard from his cold, dead hands. Many content-producers vehemently protest the vertical format, even going so far as to release PSAs with anti-vertical video messages.
But the scorn of vertical video is changing. Just last month, Vervid, the world’s first platform dedicated solely to vertical video, was launched. Although people were shooting vertical videos, particularly using apps live broadcasting apps like Periscope, their distribution options were limited. But as more people use smartphones to make and watch video content, the way we hold our smartphones (vertically) is bucking a century-old trend.
The very first motion pictures were shown in the late 1800s, and video cameras shot horizontal films that were shown on horizontal screens. The technology continued to evolve, but the orientation stayed the same.
The original aspect ration of 4:3 mimicked the human eye's field of vision. Today's standard of 16:9 didn't come around until it became important to differentiate film from television. This new widescreen format allowed for a more cinematic appearance and additional visual context, and eventually became the norm.
Although vertical video may not be the norm now (and we strongly doubt going to the movies to watch a vertical screen), there are benefits (and challenges) to using vertical video.
Benefits of Vertical Video
Vertical video gives us the opportunity to tell stories in a new way that is more mobile-friendly. Apps such as Periscope and Meerkat are leading the trend, offering video streaming in a vertical format. These videos are captured on a smartphone, and most are watched on a smartphone, one of the only screens in our daily lives that we tend to hold vertically. Snapchat is another app that embraces the vertical video trend, and reports that mobile video engagement is nine times higher with vertical video.
Challenges of Vertical Video
Vertical video often loses the visual context that surrounds the focus of each shot. Imagine the scene in Friends when everyone is late to Monica's Thanksgiving dinner, and Joey's head gets stuck in the door. If that scene had been shot vertically, we wouldn't be able to laugh at Joey and see how the other five were a) trying to help him, and b) putting food down his pants.
- When shooting vertical video, it's even more important to use a tripod to keep your smartphone still. Any camera movement will be so much more dramatic with vertical video.
- Let events unfold in front of the camera, rather than chase after them.
- Subjects should speak directly to the camera.
- You can also split the screen to show multiple angles.
If you're an old pro, please sit down and take a deep breath. Vertical video is inevitable. The more we shoot with a vertical device, the more video content will be shown vertically. Horizontal video isn't going anywhere; it just has a taller, thinner friend with it these days.