Is It Time to Accept Vertical Video as a Legitimate Standard?

If you asked that question just a few years ago, most people would have looked at you as if you were insane. But now, things have evolved, and it might be time to reconsider if vertical video has a serious place among professionals.

Coming to you from Cut to the Point, this great video features a discussion on vertical versus horizontal video and if vertical video truly deserves a permanent place nowadays. Over the past few years, phones have become the primary media consumption device for many individuals, and of course, we naturally hold them in a vertical position. I know that personally, I'm frequently watching my friend's Instagram stories while walking to teach and carrying a bag, and I simply can't/won't turn my phone sideways to watch a rotated video. Instagram seems to have taken notice of this trend, quietly introducing the ability to post landscape videos in a vertical format with bars a few updates back, indicating that indeed, many users prefer to consume their content in that fashion rather than rotate their phone. Of course, as time goes on, people will acclimate to such aspect ratios all the more, and vertical may find a permanent place, but what that will be remains to be seen. 

Lead image by Bruno Cervera, used under Creative Commons.

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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I agree no. I've said this before. It's time for smartphone manufacturers to enable a feature to record horizontal video while holding vertical.

Shouldn't be that difficult to do and would solve the laziness that many have to rotate their phones while recording.

I'd take it a step further and make it really hard to turn auto-horizontal off! Like, if you're determined to take vertical video then you'll have to search online for instructions and then dig down three layers deep in settings and then scroll to the bottom to find the switch. That's how much I hate vertical video.

My app shows me a logo saying I should put in horizontal when shooting video.

Yes. It is time. People use their phone to watch netflix. Some people only have a phone as their only computing device. I think that you should make your media device specific. I hated to see made for tv movies, shot on video with the black bars. For me it was a waste of space, and resolution. Shoot vertical for instagram, snapchat even facebook. Until youtube and other content providers can give me vertical full frame on my vertical monitor I don't think we can call it a “standard”.

And they can't turn their phone in lanscape mode when watching? Just to follow the fact that our eyes are disposed side by side and not on top of each other?

That requires either holding the phone with two hands, holding the phone with one hand in a less secure way, or awkwardly bending your wrist in a rather uncomfortable fashion. Let me know which you would choose to watch videos while standing in a subway train.

No wonder there is a trend to have bigger phones if they tend to watch Netflix on their phones in portrait mode...

It depends on the content - the same as in photography and painting. Some content makes much more sense in vertical and other in horizontal.

Key phrase "some content" :-)

My dog's first attempt to walk down the stairs is a good example. Panning up/down wouldn't have created the same sense of how scary the experience was, due to the loss of scale.

For general content, no (IMO). I think that the people recording simply don't think/care about the format, as they're not photographers/videographers. They see, they record, they share. Thoughts on the presentation of the content never enters their minds.

The aggravation for me is where content is recorded vertically and a horizontal format would have captured a more compelling vista - That's because I'm pedantic and have spent a lot of time training my eye. That said, it's rare that vertical format is the best choice, except in art installations.

In short: Vert is often not the best format, but pedants like me need to lighten up and not stress out over it as the content creators simply won't care, even if given guidance on how to choose the best format. Convenience often trumps quality.

With picture, you decide the pace of reading and watching. your eyes have time to go up and down, switch to the next one when done. And even watching picture, your field of view is an horizontal rectangle, not vertical.
This is not the case with video when the speed of watching should fit the area you are looking as you can't control it.

Well, I could be wrong about this, but according to my own casual observation, IG video has been an abysmal failure, so no, vertical video is a load of bollocks.

Maybe after millions of years of instagram use human skulls will develop eye sockets that are aligned vertically on the face, at which point I'll say yes let's make vertical video a thing.

Imo, the best thing about film (maybe the fact that I'm saying film, and not video invalidates this) is that it's immersive. When 2/3rds of what I'm seeing is whatever is behind the screen it's not immersive.

Again, that's just my opinion.

Are you similarly against portrait or square format photography? What about ultra-wide landscapes that crop off all of the sky and foreground that our eyes would naturally capture? A large part of immersion is in the way the story is being told.

Looking through the portrait orientation of a cellphone screen is so ubiquitous that I think vertical might have actually worked much better for a movies such as Cloverfield or Blair Witch Project if they were released today.

I eagerly await movie theatres to install vertical screens so we may watch the next found-footage blockbuster in "IMAX-V®".

LOL! It would certainly be an interesting experience. Why do we use a horizontal format anyway? Why not just adopt a square format?

Because horizontal is how normal human vision works?

Its not as if our current formats are representative of our actual field of view.

Nope, just because some idiots use their phones vertically doesn't make it right.
Our eyes are side by side, not stacked one above the other.

What does our biology have to do with anything?

Just look straight at something. and close your eyes.
Try to describe what you just saw.
Because of biology, you have a horizontal vision. not vertical.
But because of phone design, it's easier to hold a phone in a vertical mode.
Which on should win?

It's not as if our current wide angle standard accurately mimics our field of view. If we want to limit our art to the limits of our biology, however, I'm also not capable of night vision, dolly zooms, and slow motion vision either.

Orientation, like anything in art, should be an artistic decision and given the ubiquity of those phones in our hands, it makes sense to me that we ought to have some video standards that address those devices.

I'm not saying that you should necessarily be shooting the next Avengers movie in vertical orientation, but I think it's time that we accept the vertical orientation screens are here to stay (that's just a fact at this point) and start tailoring some content specifically for them in a standardized manner.

The problem with display is not the art but the usuability !

Of course a square format could fit vertical or horizontal content, but the customers and devices will loose large parts of display bought.

At least, every dynamic and real time computer generate content scale almost easily from different aspect ratio display to another one, but 'static' content like photos, movies and all the bunch of content you call art could not scale properly.

Who remind those western spaguetti in cinemascope format cropped for 4:3 TV set ? the art style was killed.

If nowadays displays are horizontal 16:9 / 16:10 , it is only because the most important content usually displayed are movies and series.

Imagine a second the mess we'll get if tomorrow, a TV set manufacturer release a vertical TV set. Do you really think it will have any positivie selling figures ? Who will buy a dedicated device to display 0,01% of viewed content ?

They don't need to buy a vertical TV set. They already have a vertical viewing device in their phones. What would be the problem in creating a standard for content tailored to those devices in their native orientation?

If we set the vertical ratio as a standard, it will become a real pain to look at theses videos onto TV sets and computer monitors !
Why is it so difficult to understand that simple and easy fact ?

Have you ever tried to turn 90° your 24" monitor if ever it can rotate ?
Do you think large TV could be easy to flip 90° is easy ? Imagine just a second the space and the holding arm needed to turn in vertical a 48" TV set ?
And what if that guy took his vertical footage but with the wrong orientation ?

Seriously, all theses arguments about the need of vertical standard are just plain stupid. If people are so picky about a new screen ratio, we should only vote for square. But I now, we are just getting fatter and lasier. We are now even unable to flip a smartphone from vertical to horizontal

Well, presumably such a standard would be made for content not intended to be viewed on TV sets and computer monitors in the first place, just like responsive mobile versions of websites are not intended to be viewed on those devices either.

hu ? so we will make content that could not be properly viewed outside of smartphone ?
I fear the days when grandma' and grandpa' will be asking why he cannot see his family on the bigger horizontal TV set... or so many other situations alike.

The solution should then get a monitor for usual content and a second one in vertical for smartphone generated content. Clever idea to make people buy more display devices ! Great business man you are !

This discussion is like trying to convince english people to drive on the right side of the road instead of the left.

It is just a standard of fact. In the CRT TV set era, the ratio was 4:3, almost square because technically it was difficult to make cinema like screens.
Then LCD permitted to build TV set/screens that suited perfectly to the widest cinema formats availables. We even struggled with some cumbersome ratio.

And now the standard of fact has been settled to 16:9 / 16:10 and you really want to raise a new war for the 9:16 ratio ? Without me ! I really wish we could get better gamut, color fidelity, better dynamic range from all available 16:9 displays than that lame and useless vertical format battle.

Sure. Why not? We make all sorts of other content that is optimized for smartphone. Why not also make video that is optimized for it? You seem to see this as a binary thing where either everything has to be one format or the other. Maybe you just have content designed for mobile and other content designed for TV/PC.

it is not a binary thing at all. You can already make vertical snaps with smartphone. The culprit is that is does only display properly on vertical screen. And even every smartphone are not able to properly display a vertical content as you can have weird behaviour if orientation tag is not properly set or system settings are not appropriate !

Do you really want to make a worse user experience ? You have to think general user experience before the love of a convenience for dumb capture...

I personally think horizontal video on a natively vertical screen is as bad a user experience as vertical video on a natively horizontal screen. My proposal is that rather than try to reconcile the two, you just accept them as completely different formats that ought to have content specifically tailored for each.

Do you realise that the whole discussion is just about the ergonomic flaw that plague smartphones ?
All that crap talking could be saved if smartphone manufacturer would implement camera sensor always in landscape mode.
Why does vertical video exist ? just because smartphones became so big and long it is far more convenient to shoot holding it vertically.
The norm should not designa vertical format for the lazy smartphone users, but just implement a clever orientation trigger that will not make smartphone user crazy when they film vertically or horizontaly.
Afterward, if people are making serious but vertical only content, I would really love to never hear them begging for better support from horizontal displays. I would really love to see people reactions if a guy would release a vertical 6:19 movie in usual cinemascope movie theatre. It could really be funny.

The screen orientation of mobile phones is not an ergonomic flaw. I have no idea why you would think that. Why don't you turn your phone on its side and see how comfortable it is to hold? Phones have vertical screens because a vertical format is more ergonomic for human hands and a vertical screen makes the most of the real estate afforded by that orientation.

And once again, I never argued that blockbuster movies intended for theaters should be shot in vertical orientation. I don't see anybody arguing that point. I'm arguing that video content intended to be viewed on mobile devices should be responsive and shot both ways with the device detecting what the orientation is and showing you the appropriate aspect ratio. And yes, this means shooting two totally different videos rather than simply cropping down or squashing the horizontal video.

Whenever I have to incessantly scroll a social media site or a comment thread on my phone it gives me a headache having to twitch my eyes up and down while trying to follow the horizontal content.

Because our vision, like most other animals on earth is panoramic. Vertical video is a thoughtless acceptance of a machine form factor that was designed for putting to ones ear.

Regardless of what you may think about vertical screens, they are a reality and they are ubiquitous. Designing content that is optimized for existing devices is hardly thoughtless.

Not all videos are blockbuster movies or TV shows where the goal is visual immersion. You can shoot video intended for mobile vertical and video intended for TV or theaters landscape.

A lot of people seem to be drawing the false assumption that the two cannot co-exist and that the adoption of a vertical format means that we would suddenly stop shooting movies and TV in a horizontal format. That's absurd.

Professional video (meaning paid content) is never shot vertically. Only amateurs or a pro creating a faux amateur video shoot vertical. One can make all
Sorts of poor arguments about artistic intent of mobile focused content but it is just sophistry.

So you don't think it makes sense to create vertical video advertisements for responsive mobile webpages? When the technology and form factor are ubiquitous, it's only a matter of time before advertisers are going to want to capitalize on all of the screen real estate possible. Horizontal video, while great for TV and movies, is an inefficient use of screen real estate when you're talking about mobile browsing.

Just because you adamantly believe that video should always be horizontal doesn't make it any more correct or logical than someone who thinks otherwise. From a business standpoint, it makes complete sense to start tailoring content to take advantage of the devices that are in peoples' hands. Why do you think we no longer have to turn our phones or tablets horizontally in order to browse the web? Because at some point, people decided that it was stupid and people created responsive web pages that will show you a different site based on your viewing device so that you didn't have to fiddle with turning your device from its native orientation or dealing with small text.

It's not far fetched to imagine a world where people browsing the web on their mobile devices will start running into vertical video content because the website detects that they are viewing from a mobile device. If anything, having all of these devices out there and no standards governing how to present video in their native orientation is what's completely stupid and leads to device manufacturers producing devices with screens in all sorts of ratios and companies like Apple putting a stupid notch on their phones that has no business being there.

It's not me insisting that videos be made horizontally, it is the market. Economics moves irrespective of your desire to make an argument for vertical video.
When businesses start paying for vertical video you may have an argument. At the moment they just ask people to turn their phones sideways for a larger image. That image is played on desktops, theaters and TV. That is where money is spent.

I don't disagree with you that the big money is currently spend on content for desktop monitors, TV's, and theaters. Key word here is: currently.

As it currently stands, all three of those—dedicated personal computer ownership, theater attendance, and television viewership—are declining year after year. Meanwhile, the number of mobile devices in peoples' hands increases year after year.

Truth be told, nobody is going to move based on what people bicker about on some random forum, but the reality is that as the number of viewing devices with a horizontal native format continues to be dwarfed by devices whose native format is vertical, the paradigm is bound to shift eventually. Whether that will come before things like holographic displays, augmented reality, and immersive 360-degree video on a large scale is a question that only time will tell, but regardless of what eventually replaces our current viewing formats, viewing a horizontal display on a flat screen is going to eventually be a note in history history books.

In the meantime, I do think that there is a place for vertical video (as I've been arguing) not as a regular TV or movie experience, but for things like advertisements in a responsive format where you'll only be shown the vertical video if the website or app detects that you're viewing on a mobile device.

NO! So in 20 years when the standard monitor size is 40in and 8k tvs are standard 100in, your kids will thank you for that tiny ass video in the middle of their screen. It's lazy. Just went to see the Game of Thrones live concert and my friend was filming away in vertical and had to keep panning left and right to see the whole stage. I shot a couple of clips in wide and was able to keep the camera still.

That's like saying portrait photography is lazy. Your orientation has to inform your composition of the shot. Your friend using vertical orientation to capture width is no less dumb and inefficient than using landscape orientation to capture height, which is something we've done in TV and movies forever to varying degrees of success.

No, picture can be re-frame, crop as you spending the time you want to analyze a picture.
But for a movie, the speed of displaying image is not from the audience to choose.
In order to get full immersive, you should fill you field of view, and due to the placement of your eyes, it have to be horizontal.
Laziness come from people not able to rotate a screen when watching or recording video.

Yet most people do not watch their video content in iMax theaters. They are watching it on screens—either TV's, computers, or mobile devices. None of these screens fill your field of view anyway and no TV or monitor company would recommend that you set yourself at a distance where the screen would fill your field of view.

Immersion is a function of the quality of content—not on the aspect ratio or orientation of the video. For years, people were immersed in TV shows and movies in 4:3 aspect ratio on their TV's. Now it just happens to be 16:9. Our brains have the wonderful ability to tune out what it doesn't want to pay attention to and focus on what it does.

You should rewind back to the 4:3 CRT TV set era, and see yourself the crimes made to cinemascope movies cropped to strange 1.85 format because many customers were crying why they had gigantic black bands above and below the movie image !

Hey people, when you are looking at Netflix content onto your smartphone, do you make me believe you keep your smartphone in vertical and wishes Netflix should give smartphones users the ability to look at their favorite series this way ? If you think twice like you are thinking about it, they should even give the possibility to zoom in a cinemascope footage to fill the vertical FHD display, croping or stretching mode ! It could be really wonderfull and arty, for sure !

I don't view Netflix on my smartphone since the only time I would have where I need to watch video on my phone would be on the subway, where I wouldn't want to be holding my phone horizontally, which would either require that I use two hands or hold it in a less secure fashion.

Also, I'm not suggesting that everything suddenly be shot in vertical format, but I am suggesting that maybe you might want to create a situation where you have responsive content that will show you stuff optimized for mobile when you are viewing on mobile the same way that websites will switch what you see depending on your viewing device. It's not an all-or-nothing scenario.

Except a website content is adaptable to any screen size ratios by nature, whereas a photo or a video has been caught using a specific orientation, fixed ratio and size.
Website content already have to cope with
4:3 1024x768 / 1280*1024 / 1600*1200
16:9 HD, FHD, UHD,
9:16 (vertical)
A propoer browser can even adapt content with exotic display with minimal loss until the website force a view mode (bad behaviour from lousy admin/dev).

And if you try to view a 'fixed ratio' (photo, video whereas svg cand be resized at will) content on another media that do not comply from a ratio PoV, I don't need to explain you why it can give not confortable results.

So seriously, do you want to make us believe it is possible to create 'vectorial' photos or video that could be scaled/croped properly on a new vertical display norm, or vice versa ?

You should try watching a youtube video on your smartphone, in vertical mode, and the horizontal, just to be sure how convenient it could be....

No. I was thinking more along the lines of if the website detects you're on a vertical display it shows you how video and ifit detects that you're off a horizontal display, it directs you to another. I'm not suggesting that video can be stretched between vertical and horizontal orientations.

No that would be like take a portrait the going into photoshop, creating a landscape wide document, making the background black and then slapping your vertical portrait right in the middle of it. It's stupid and there is no reason why anyone should shoot vertical except to slap on a social site that might not be around in 5 years.

Except that portrait orientation photos display properly on a mobile devices in their native orientation whereas landscapes do not. The reason people would shoot vertical is either for creative effect or to optimize their photography (or video) to the most widely used (by far) media consumption device.

Unless you think that mobile devices are suddenly going to disappear anytime soon or that they are going to change to become landscape orientation (something that wouldn't be ergonomic), then it's pretty safe to say that there's a place for vertical video in our foreseeable future. It probably won't be coming to theaters or TV's, but far more video is consumed through phones than either TV or movies theater screens. Even computer ownership (both desktop and laptop) is on the decline as phones and tablets become more capable of meeting our needs.

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