Is it time to accept vertical video?

Throughout history, film and video have been constantly upgraded, changed and improved. With the invention of cell phone cameras, people began recording in a vertical format that we were not used to. As these amateur photographers and videographers continued to capture and share their world, people became more accustomed to the format. But is the content only viable for web and mobile use?

The Current Visual Aesthetic

The widescreen aesthetic has dominated theatrical releases for decades. With the release of HD televisions, it has also become a popular format for broadcast. As a result, when we see things in a vertical format it seems odd to us. This alone is not enough to prevent vertical video from being a popular format, but there is more to consider.

A Tale of Two Formats

Perhaps the biggest argument against vertical video is the lack of premium content, content people are willing to pay for, or award worthy content, movies or television programs that have been recognized by a well-known third party such as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Oscars) or the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (Emmys). In order to understand how new formats become accepted and used, consider the recent adoption of 3D.


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In 2004, 3D resurfaced but was mostly written off as gimmick for animated films and concert events. It wasn’t until “Avatar” was nominated for a best picture Oscar in 2009 that 3D garnered attention as format to be reckoned with. Of course, “Avatar” also cleaned up at the box office earning $2,787,965,087. When auteur Martin Scorsese designed and shot “Hugo” in 3D, many industry critics and insiders believed that the format was viable and desirable theatrically.

We are at the stage where artistic storytellers should be thinking, “Is this a story I want to tell vertically?

3D for television has not fared as well and the fad has definitely faded for 3D televisions. While there were cable channels that did broadcast 3D specials, there weren’t any Emmy award-winning shows or movies that were created in 3D.

Drawing comparisons, it would take a feature film or television show shot in a vertical format to win something like an Emmy or Oscar; additionally, it would also have to post astronomical numbers at the box office or have high ratings on a network channel. Repeat performances would ensure that the vertical format was not a fluke. This would be especially true if auteurs were drawn to the format.

Where Vertical Video is Catching On

Websites like Vine and YouTube have tons of vertical video. Companies that create advertisements for cell phones also use vertical videos. A relatively new concept in advertising is the video poster. Some theaters, malls and amusement venues have gone paperless and instead have introduced video posters. Content for these posters is, usually, specially shot vertical video.

Vertical and You

Vertical video has a lot of hurdles to reach before it becomes a widely used and accepted format. As a result, it is too early to say we should all be preparing to film vertical video, but we can accept vertical video as one of many tools. We are at the stage where artistic storytellers should be thinking, “Is this a story I want to tell vertically? How would this format add to the story?”

We’ve seen how the shape of the screen influences format. Both cinema and television were quick to expand to widescreen formats; it’s no surprise that vertical video is popular with cell phone users who like holding and viewing content in that format. But what will happen when 4K and 8K televisions become prevalent in households? What if multiple vertical videos were watched simultaneously on these large 80 inch monitors? It seems like a great way to watch multiple sporting events that are all occurring at the same time.

This is the stage where technologically savvy wedding videographers may want to create special vertical clips from their 4K masters for the couple’s Vine feeds. This could be the time where filmmakers might want to use vertical video to create their own animated movie posters to market their film. At the end of the day, the format of vertical video is just a tool. It is up to people to use the tool to create art, advertisement or entertainment.

Wéland Bourne is an award-winning filmmaker as well as a VFX and motion graphic artist.

Susan is the Art Director at Videomaker and Creator Handbook Magazines.


  1. Coming from a still background, the "vertical or horizontal" question is something that's been kicking around for a long, long time.  Of course, portraits are usually vertical and the magazine format is usually vertical…but it's still an issue, and when physical requirements don't rule and when "artistic license" does not rule–that is, when consumers freely buy what they want to buy–consumers buy horizontal much more frequently than they buy vertical.  And we know it, we've known it for a long time.

    In most of the discussions I've been in on the subject, the speculation "why" tends to boil down to "human visual perception has evolved to be horizontal."  I've looked at some of the vertical videos on YouTube, and even though my personal preference for still composition happens to be vertical, I cannot long watch composition in motion without uneasily feeling that I'm missing something vital.   I am constantly drawn out of the story to the fact that I'm being manipulated by the artist.

    References to 3D (or even color) aren't really relevant.  Color and 3D bring the visual art closer to reality.  Vertical composition departs from reality, and does so with unrelenting obviousness.

    This unrelentingly obvious departure from reality can, of course, be put to artistic advantage when the subject calls for it.  Hitchcock could pull off a full-length feature film in vertical.

  2. Even when viewed on a device that can be displayed vertically (portrait), vertical videos are displayed horizontally (landscape mode, as pictured above in the article) with sidebars, making them all but unviewable.  Effectively, they have so little resolution that they appear like standard definition video of bygone days.

    Making this worse, if you try to "fix it" by viewing it vertically, it flips the video so that you now have an even smaller video to view.

    Finally, our visual systems are not geared to a vertical world.  We view things horizontally because, for the most part, what is of interest to us is in the horizontal frame.  

    This is why the anamorphic aspect ratios are so popular.  The information to the sides are far more important than the sky or ground, which make up a significant portion a  vertical video's "content".  Take a video of an incident between a police officer and citizen, for example.  if there is any separation between the two, then one of them will be outside the video.  To make matters worse, frequently, there will be additional parties who are doing something that is important, that will not be captured.

    At best, vertical video is a niche that can be interesting because of its novelty, but, IMO, it is of very little practical use.

    Vertical video has come about because phone users are used to looking at their devices in a vertical mode.  So when they start recording, they hold it vertically, hence, the problem.  Manufacturers can fix this with "multi aspect" sensors that are essentially "cross shaped" so that they can record "proper, full resolution, full sensor" video in landscape mode.

    Until content displayers (YouTube, etc.) "correct" this so that the video will display correctly (a "rotate" option in their app?), this is, again, IMO, a horrible way to display video content!

  3. We look at the world through eyes spaced horizontally in widescreen format.  When looking at vertical format, our eyes will be seeking additional information to the left and to the right.  It would take an amazingly arresting vertical image to hold our interest for very long. 

  4.  Tip your iPhone 90° and shoot in landscape mode, as God intended it – your eyes are side-by-side, not on top of each other. There's a reason that movie and TV screens have been horizontal for decades. This vertical crap is born of ignorance and sloth – let's educate the slovenly masses and stop this nonsense now.  I'm the Horizontal Police – all over the world, when I see people shooting vertical video I walk over and helpfully tip their camera horizontally — and altruistically don't even stick around to savor their inevitable gratitude … Please join my (currently one-man) army and help me in my crusade!… Future audiences and visual historians will thank you…Until they invent & market vertical screens , your vertical video is gonna look lousy on the millions of horizontal screens in theaters , on TVs and computer monitors… And yes, even on smartphones — turn the damned thing sideways to shoot and view… Most motion is left-to-right (or right-to-left) , people converse next to each other (not on top of each other), we live in a horizontal plane , etc. … For photography and paintings, "portrait" connotes a static image; "landscape" connotes a scene… Video is about scenes… There is no credible counter-argument to this, and there's no way to even sound intelligently contrarian on this topic, so don't even bother… Join the forces for good, and help shooters tip their phones for them… Transgressors galore, our work is cut out for us… No time for apologists or rationalizers — we have standards to maintain!

  5. There should be no question. Video is horizontal! The only reason that we are seeing vertical video, is that people with iPhones, are holding the phone upright when they are shooting video, without thinking about what they are going to see on a TV screen.

    Video maker should be helping them turn their phones horizontally, not trying to change the way the world views video!!!!!

  6. Vertical format will never be mainstream because it is not the way our vision works. It is why we went to wide screen from 4:3 in the first place. We are sometimes stuck with vertical orientation because smart phones are held vertically and it’s easier to take video on the fly in that alignment. Cats have vertical vision orientation, people do not.

  7. My compliments to author Bourne.
    I agree that we’ll see more use of vertical formatted video for a wide range purposes, including dramatic and instructional.
    The author is more open-minded than I, as I would have – before reading the article – quickly said No to vertical video.

  8. “Is it time to accept vertical video?”

    Our predators came from the ground, not the air. Humans are designed for wide, not tall – our horizontal peripheral vision is far greater than our vertical one.

    Maybe all the phone philmers could, you know, rotate their phones 90 degrees?

  9. I will occasionally use vertical video where a client provides their own unique vertical footage. In such instances I do no color correction or picture stabilization etc., as to clearly distinguish the difference between that and the quality of 4K or HD widescreen, professional footage.

    Can you imagine paying to go to the movies to watch a movie on a vertical screen, or better still lets replace existing car windscreens with vertical windscreens, maybe they’ll catch on! Think the vertical movie craze started solely because the kids had not worked out they could turn their i Phone sideways to record in widescreen?

    As for Movie Posters they have always been in a vertical format.

  10. This is crazy to even ponder the subject. There are standards in every artform and the foundational ones you keep preserved. The only reason we have vertical video is due to amateur stupidity with a phone, I’m sorry, that’s what it is. When we converse with someone do we lean over 90 degrees? Of course not. NATURAL IMAGERY IS WHAT OUR EYES WERE DESIGNED BY GOD TO SEE and that’s horizontally. Stills are a different story, that’s a moment frozen in time. I am so sick of people shooting video vertically and there’s no effort to teach the masses to knock it off. It’s not a question of “is it time to ACCEPT IT”, it’s a matter of educating the masses to stop doing it wrong. You wouldn’t get two inches in film school doing this, why are we accepting it?? So it’s up to news outlets and video houses to start rejecting it, regardless of what amazing footage of a hurricane someone got, etc. We need to get the message across.

  11. I have to agree with many of the commenters — horizontal is there for a good reason. On occasion, when the only raw footage I have from someone is vertical, I run it to the side with captioning text beside it; makes it a bit more artistic and lessens the feeling of being cheated out of screen space. One specialized place where vertical video can be effective is with a full head-to-toe shot of a person talking, possibly a historical figure, in a museum setting with a large monitor placed on end. That looks right, and fills the vertically-oriented screen for a special purpose. But general-use? Turn the darn smart phone 90 degrees to horizontal, please.

  12. A lot of great comments that I have to agree with. We have peripheral vision, which should be argument enough. OK so maybe it’s not, then consider these….

    Just like maxheadspace (and others) said, it’s the way the “younger than I” generation hold their phone. Texting, Tweeting, Checking-In and the such, as well as the old fashioned talking, all use the phone vertically. So it’s more natural to shoot video the same way. However it’s not really the generations fault. The original smartphone that shot video did not rotate the video so you ended up looking at the video sideways on your screen. Vertical video didn’t really come to the forefront until the phone manufactures developed the codec to rotate the video being recorded. And why wouldn’t they? Gotta sell the product. I don’t like it because it makes me feel like I’m in a tunnel and just like RockyM, I do not, under any circumstance, alter the vertical video. I refuse to and politely let the client know there is not enough money for me to do so. I didn’t shoot it nor one of my guys so I will not enhance it. I have been asked to shoot the video vertical and explain why we do not shoot it that way.

  13. Ok lets be honest, the human feild of vision isn’t even correct for vertical video, the only reason vertical video even exists is because of instagram and facebook users who dont know how to frame a simple video shot with a cell phone. To even give this consideration as some new form of composition is moronic.

  14. I video weddings working solo, and sometimes I’ll get someone in the wedding party to take some video clips, eg. in the limo to or from the ceremony. “Just hold it steady” I advise them. Unless I remind them otherwise it often comes shot vertically. Sigh.

    What really is annoying is when someone records a conversation between two people side by side and there goes the vertical phone back and forth. They could capture both people in one static horizontal shot, but no …

    Having said that, I was attending a wedding (not shooting video) but I was on the aisle and I couldn’t help taking shots with my phone of my niece coming down the aisle with her new husband at the end of the ceremony, and yes, I shot it vertically because I was able to capture the couple head to toe right up close. I even used the shot as off to one side P-in-P B roll footage during a video I made of guests giving greetings. So there are a few very limited uses for vertical video. But are we going to see TVs with rotatable screens? I doubt it …

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