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.

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64 Comments

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.

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

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

Ramon Acosta's picture

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”.

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

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?

Michael Jin's picture

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...

Leif Sikorski's picture

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

Jon Kellett's picture

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.

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

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.

Jonathan Reid's picture

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.

Timothy Daniel's picture

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.

Michael Jin's picture

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®".

Michael Jin's picture

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?

Michael Jin's picture

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.

Michael Jin's picture

What does our biology have to do with anything?

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

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?

Michael Jin's picture

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.

Nicolas KIEFFER's picture

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 ?

Michael Jin's picture

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?

Nicolas KIEFFER's picture

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

Michael Jin's picture

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.

Nicolas KIEFFER's picture

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 !

Nicolas KIEFFER's picture

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.

Michael Jin's picture

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.

Nicolas KIEFFER's picture

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...

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