If you can hear that in Helen Boucher’s voice, you can imagine the sentiment I have for vertical video. Aside of watching streaming content, the primary orientation of cellphone use is vertical, thus its understandable that the natural orientation from which to shoot a movie or take a picture would be vertical.
Many don’t think about orientation when shooting a video since they’re either (A) not uploading the video to an online sharing site, or (B) they don’t care how it looks as long as they can enjoy it. Both are valid points, but neither diminish the cringe factor that overcome people.
While I am not a video producer or videographer by professional trade, I’ve had enough exposure and education around it to know that the only sensical way to shoot a video is horizontally.
Those that watch the morning news have seen at least one story covered where the source video is someone’s cellphone and you see that the video confined to the smartphone-sized window as the sides are typically a solid color. From my point of view, there’s a lot of unseen detail. The video could simply be of one person giving a short speech without much detail behind them, or it could be your best friend attempting their best karaoke. With the latter, filming horizontally ensures that if they move around the stage, you’re getting all they’re doing. In defense of the morning news broadcasts, when people are recording video to send to news media, the last thing on their mind is the orientation of the video.
Despite my sentiments, audiences don’t all see the final result of a video the same way. Anyone that works in the production world knows that video is often exported to a half-dozen or more formats for a variety of environments. Part of storyboarding and planning a shoot is anticipating and learning from the client how they intend to use the video. It is possible to shoot horizontally and crop for a vertical presentation.
Video isn’t exclusive to television screens and cellphones; retail kiosks and merchandising displays in retail aren’t all designed with a horizontal screen. Since those kiosks and displays are made for videos that will sit on replay throughout the day, and since the video is complimenting some kind of visual presentation, it’s one of few applications where vertical video can work (don’t forget those captions!), especially if the talent doesn’t move while on camera. I’ve patronized museums where an exhibit is an iPad playing a vertical video surrounded by a display with text that elaborates and gives further context for the video.
Despite some of these viable applications for vertical video and indifference from audiences who likely won’t recognize or care about the orientation of the video, videos should be shot horizontally for the sake of including as much detail as possible and not constraining your talent to a small viewing section in the center of the screen.
As I mentioned earlier, in the heat of the moment, the orientation of the video will be the last thing on your mind, especially if you have a split-second to react – I’m reminded of a time a few years ago when I attended a rally and a friend of mine was approached by a police officer because his location had become a security issue for the event. The interaction began so quickly that I didn’t have the two seconds to flip my phone; the important factor was filming the interaction. Fortunately, in my case, neither my friend nor the officer moved out of frame until the discussion was ending. The surrounding detail was irrelevant and despite how constrained it looks, it served its purpose.
Since the day I filmed that video, I’ve become more cognizant of my environment and when my gut tells me that filming something is likely, I’ve been known to keep my camera app on in my pocket, and I’ve had some practice with quickly orienting my phone. Additionally, if your phone frequently rings or receives text messages and notifications, it might be wise to carry a second device with you, set in Airplane Mode, that can be dedicated to video.