In 2018, over 70% of content viewed on YouTube was done through mobile devices. Phones and tablets have officially replaced traditional computers as the average user’s primary content delivery device. Entire social media platforms, such as Snapchat, are exploiting vertical video’s pervasiveness and Instagram has its own video application designed specifically for vertical video, IGTV.

And then we have to acknowledge that phones have almost entirely replaced cameras as the go-to recording device for non-videographers. Built-in cameras have become increasingly complex, with the most advance capable of recording in 4K. As more powerful editing software becomes available on mobile devices, professional-level video can be shot, edited and shared using only a phone.

It’s not just smaller hobbyists producing vertical content. Music videos, in particular, have been quick to capitalize on non-traditional aspect ratios. Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 hit “King Kunta” was recorded in 1:1. Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj have all released vertical versions alongside more traditional music videos. YouTube now includes vertically-shot advertisements for mobile devices. Even Netflix has embraced vertical video, featuring vertical previews of shows that play when browsing the platform on a phone or tablet.

Even Netflix has embraced vertical video, featuring vertical previews of shows that play when browsing the platform on a phone or tablet.

Vertical video has also been pursued as an artistic choice. Vertical Film Festival in Australia, started in 2014, is an opportunity for video producers to explore the potential of vertical video (referred to by the festival as its aspect ratio, 9:16). The most recent Vertical Film Festival occurred just a few days ago on December 8th.

So why is it that we’re still so averse to vertical video? If we watch and, for some of us, record most of our content on phones, what is the problem with vertical video?

For a long time, vertical video meant the recorder was either lazy or uninformed. It was seen as evidence that someone didn’t know the most basic rules of video production. Vertically recorded videos were grainy and poorly framed. They were videos that captured a fight behind the gym after school or a jerky shot of a concert that consisting mostly of the back of someone’s head, flashing lights and some inaudible screaming. They weren’t exactly flattering examples of vertical video.

Clearly, there are situations where a landscape perspective is preferred. In a professionally-produced video, horizontal ensures your video can be viewed optimally on as many devices as possible. Film and TV isn’t moving away from a landscape aspect ratio anytime soon. But when video is produced for consumption on social media, filming in a vertical perspective is an increasingly legitimate option. You don’t have to film in a vertical perspective, but writing off a video simply because it’s using a nontraditional aspect ratio ignores the changing landscape of video production and sharing.

A lot of us are stuck in our ways. For almost all of cinema’s lifetime, vertical aspect ratios were entirely unheard of. Tripods were built with standard, horizontal perspectives in mind. There weren’t devices that could play vertical video. But now, when more people own smartphones than desktop computers, it might be time to realize that maybe vertical video isn’t just the tool of the lazy and uninformed.

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Robin works in development for One Mobile Projector per Trainer, a non-profit that supplies aid organizations with video production training and equipment to improve the quality and impact of their message

36 COMMENTS

  1. On the very small screen of a mobile phone, portrait videos can be reluctantly acceptable. But the moment the image size is increased on even the most modest of larger screen equipment, the failings of an unpleasant vertically squashed image are immediately apparent. It’s like watching an event through a partially opened door, you wouldn’t do it, you would open the door wide to see all that was going on.

    • Then why not have a perfect square that’s really big? wouldn’t you want to look up or down too?

      I could just as easily say that the horizontal aspect is like watching something through the door slit. Wouldn’t you rather see through the whole door?.

      Why not have all 360 degree video? This snobbery for a particular aspect is purely arbitrary and based on what you are used to not some imaginary objective “correct” way to do it.

      • It’s not arbitrary dude, it’s a reflection of how we actually view the world. We see far more of our environment by looking to our sides than by looking up or down.

        Regardless of how you consume vertical video, by its very definition it will be a grossly inefficient use of the screen space. That is what is being said.

      • “I could just as easily say that the horizontal aspect is like watching something through the door slit. Wouldn’t you rather see through the whole door?. ”

        this makes absolutely zero sense. Even if you open the door, we view the world in horizontal fov, we see more to sides than up/down. That is why vertical video just isn’t good most of the time.

  2. I agree with Frank. Just because so many folks in the industry seem to have shrugged and given up on folks not knowing how to shoot video properly doesn’t mean the rest of us should also capitulate. Most of these vertical videos also have no decent audio, white balancing, etc., so should we also just say “hey, those things are okay also”?

  3. So I was expecting some editing solution to this dilemma. You didn’t write anything was ALL already know. How about some ideas to help solve the problem in our editing these kind of shots–or maybe that’s too obvious anyway. But thanks for bring it up.

  4. This is quite simply wrong. I have no problem with people who shoot vertically if there end programmes are going to end up social media such as facebook but to shoot vertically for the rest is just wrong especially if you then have to fill the sides of the screen with black. Artistically vertical format has a place but the majority of filming lends itself to horizontal. Just look at this page all photos are horizontal…..why…because we look at the page computers or TVs that are horizontal. In the past they have tried to make computers vertical but this has never caught on because in our lives through our eyes we see a horizontal view and not a vertical view so please please do not try and sell us that vertical is the preferred way. Lastly I will add that you quote music video and say one is 1:1 this is not vertical and the other make version that are vertical. This is because facebook and other social media is trying to push us into vertical view and not because it is an antically better way to view video.
    Dave Knowles – director/cameraman/editor

  5. TV and traditional cinemas are still horizontal, and cannot be easily switched. Amateur video shown on news on TV looks dumb. You tube watched on laptops and desktops is horizontal. It is hard to rotate a TV, laptop, or desktop screen. It is very simple to rotate a phone. People are just lazy.

  6. I have seen some (very few mind you) vertical videos that fill the screen or have proper framing. I can also see instances where vertical aspect is good for advertising electronic billboards. But a very high percentage of vertical video is just plain ‘crap’ where the middle third of the screen has the only useful information and the top and bottom thirds are wasted space. If the same video were to be done horizontally the important activity would fill the screen with no wasted space. Most stages are built with a natural horizontal aspect. So I agree with Frank. Vertical aspect may be a good way to give a video a ‘funky vibe’, but the infrequency that it should/could be used doesn’t justify turning display screens. Just a hint for the smart phone video shooters, just turn the darn phone and if the phone can’t shoot in horizontal it is not that smart.

  7. I disagree. Vertical video cheats the viewer out of the peripheral view our eyes were designed to see. The “landscape” perspective is almost ALWAYS preferable, unless there’s a purpose behind shooting vertical, like a photographer who knows his photo needs to fit into a certain space in a newspaper or magazine, and the vertical shot makes it easier to “crop” for publication. That’s what a pro does. What amateurs do is make mistakes, and vertical is a huge mistake. Cell phones should be programmed to go dark if being aimed vertical, and you have to hit a button if that’s what you really want. PInball machines have a “TILT” warning function. So should cell phones.

  8. I love that last sentence in this article and I must debunk it. Oh, no…for sure, vertical video IS the tool of the lazy and uninformed. Or AT LEAST the uninformed (I’m not meaning to be offensive, just expressing my opinion here). That’s how it started and that is where it remains. I find it to be…and I struggle to find just the right word here, but I’m going to use this one: STUPID. I can’t think of a time when I wanted to see more ground and sky in an outside shot. I always want to see more of the person’s eye-level surroundings…not what is ten feet above the camera view. Good horse sense should tell a person to rotate the view. About all vertical video would be good for is portrait style interviews and I haven’t seen anyone use it for that. For me, the real problem with vertical video is that it smacks of “tunnel vision” with no peripheral. And who wants THAT? It makes me feel like I have an abnormal eye condition…glaucoma anyone?

  9. Cell-phones and various I-devices have brought with them a culture where there is no such thing as ‘bad video’. In the eyes of young ‘millennials’, all such video becomes ‘good’ from their perspective because it is members of ‘their’ generation which made it. It is a generalised thumbing of the nose towards those who have learned to produce video of high standard through more conventional, but conservative channels. These are attitudes which began to surface during a time I spent working for a University when I had daily contact with many students. I had to follow instructions in a job-book. Most of those were written in such appallingly unintelligible English that even without the abysmal spelling of the simplest words, they failed to convey what was intended. I think that generation has now penetrated to positions in industry, where they exploit the fact that the ignorance of a younger generation is something to be exploited, hence that generation’s pathetic dependence on having ‘contact’ at all times. I think a similar malaise has taken over popular culture; leading to my theory that sometime during the late 19th-early 20th century, some agency caused evolution to go into reverse. Search no further than Pennsylvania Avenue for a prime example.

  10. I was hoping the author was going to post links to some good examples of vertical! Please do, despite the negativity about the creative aspects here!
    p.s. a bit of a bummer your article had an accompanying photo which was horizontal aspect ratio. That does damage the story. Please stick to vertical photos to support the vertical video theme!
    p.p.s. I am serious, please post some great vertical video links! There must be one, right?

  11. I’ll stop complaining about vertical video when people start growing faces with two eyes, one ABOVE the other instead of NEXT to each other as we have now. Otherwise vertical video is completely unnatural, and trying to justify it with smart phones makes no sense since smartphones are just as capable of recording horizontally as vertically.

  12. In fine arts, ancient Chinese and Japanese artists were using the vertical canvas for their compositions back in the 4th century AD. Nothing new with the vertical format, it is just that in western societies we are not used to see the world that way. We have to study the ancient techniques of composition used by those artists and start to make a good use of the format.

  13. Stop! ‘It’s a dessert AND a floor wax’. Do what the situation calls for. I’ve shot a lot of bands and events and when I go in for a close up at the stage I turn vertical to get only as much of that person as I can without clutter in the background. Stepping away, I go wide, horizontal again, and turn the verticals upright for their short duration in editing. Keeps things happening even when they may not be so much. Bands love the way I shoot and those videos got me hired to shoot 12 events over the course of a year and a half for a local Event Producer. Do what the situation calls for. There is no right way, but horizontal is the main way.

  14. So since you have those 2 side by side eyes I’m wondering how you hold your phone normally. Do you turn it sideways ALL the time? If not, why not your eyes aren’t vertical after all yet most of the time I bet you hold, view and use the damn thing vertically just like everybody else.

    So that’s the natural way to hold your phone but not the natural way to view it? THERE IS NO “NATURAL” WAY TO WATCH A GOD DAMN VIDEO.

    Sometimes it’s vertical sometimes horizontal sometimes it’s square sometimes it’s a 360 panorama in vr goggles.

    This idea that there’s a “correct” way to do any form of art reminds me of that scene in Dead Poet’s Society when Robin Williams tells the kids to tear that page out of their textbooks because it’s crap.

  15. Completely disagree. Vertical video bothers so many people because it clashes with the natural plane of our vision. Horizontal images just sit better in our field of view and allow us to easily and naturally focus on the images. Why did widescreen video format become so popular? Because it feels nice to watch things on. Vertical video is unpleasant for the VAST majority of people and it is incredibly irritating to have it foisted on us constantly by device manufacturers looking for the next big thing. Look at Quibi. No one gives a crap about their whole vertical feature and now Apple is jumping on. Honestly, how hard is it to just rotate your device? If you are taking the time to watch a video then why not just rotate the stupid thing so it’s in the correct aspect ratio? It will take up the whole screen regardless either way. And if I hear the ” people hold the phone with one hand” argument one more time I am going to eat my phone. If you cannot hold your phone horizontally in one hand then you need a physical therapist.

  16. Lazy is the operative here. How difficult is it to rotate your phone 90-degrees? Pandering to the lowest-common denominator.
    And what is terrible, during the pandemic is broadcast news programmes with vertical, and shooting up-from-the floor single shots, by the rank amateurs.
    Oh, and the big fires video…look a the burning forest. Why, all we see is one tree, tiny, even on a large-screen telly. The television stations should take a moment or two and instruct the brainless ‘professionals’ on how to shoot for television.
    And to think, all the excitement over the HD, wide screen and these muckheads are clueless about how to shoot for these screens.