Vertical video is here to stay thanks to the social media boom. Uncover the origins of vertical video and learn ways to produce your own sharable content.
Love it or hate it, vertical video is here to stay. In fact in 2020, it’s now popular more than ever. At the start of the 2010s, when iPhones were continuing their surge in global mobile dominance and alternative brands were adopting the iPhone format, we began to see more vertical videos crowd the internet space. This was to the despair of photographers, videographers, and many casual video viewers who fought against the format.
Such pushback was presented in a comedic fashion by Glove and Boots who produced the Vertical Syndrome PSA
A since-deleted viral video garnered millions of views asking people to stop filming vertically because of the awful way it presented itself online. As the internet and mobile internet were designed for 16:9 footage, anything filmed vertically would be placed into a 16:9 aspect ratio alongside two large black rectangles to accommodate the missing space—whether the viewer was holding the phone vertically or not. As a result, there was a loss of visibility, viewing ratio, and it made for awkward video presentation.
However, moving into the latter part of the 2010s, web and mobile web adjusted for the 9:16 and 4:5 ratio. The new adjustment showed vertical video as such, instead of applying the dreadful output blanking. By 2019, on most platforms, if you opened a vertically-filmed video on your phone it filled your entire screen.
Why is Vertical Video Popular?
When something exciting happens, it’s effortless to pull out your phone, flick to video mode, and film with one hand. Whether that’s because you’re holding a drink and filming the main act at a gig or asking your dog to perform a party trick, filming vertically doesn’t require both hands. While it’s not an extraneous task to hold your phone horizontally, the steady increase in phone size makes it that extra bit difficult to swap to a horizontal position with just one hand.
Most importantly, it’s the way we consume content. Forbes reported that a study found that almost 94% of us hold our phones vertically. The studies also suggest that if we come across a video that requires us to change the orientation of our phone, instead of doing so, we’re 2.5 times more than likely to skip it. Although it’s just a flick of the wrist, it’s an inconvenience (this doesn’t account for when we actively seek out horizontal content.)
The format was further embraced and normalized in 2018 when YouTube started to accept and publish 9:16 ads. Come 2020, and with the rise and dominance of TikTok, it’s could be argued that the format is more popular than 16:9 video.
Why Create Vertical Video?
I think it’s important to acknowledge that the inclusion of vertical video into the professional stratosphere doesn’t diminish the typical landscape presentation, nor will it ever replace it. However, according to AdWeek, those who advertise on Snapchat have an increase of nine times more engagement when their video ads are vertically oriented. Meanwhile Pew suggests that 75% of people ages 18-24 only watch content on their phones.
With those numbers, it’s not a demographic worth ignoring simply because you have purist views about which way a video should display. So, how do you go about creating vertical video?
Do you need to film vertically with professional cameras?
Cameras are now entering the market with a maximum resolution of 8k. So, you don’t always have to rotate your camera to produce vertical content when the maximum upload for vertical video is 1080×1920. You can easily pull a 1080×1920 video from oversized media.
However, we’re also seeing an increase in filmmaking tutorials on how to film with your camera in a vertical position. So, do you rotate your camera, or crop into a 4k video file? Well, this question wields a somewhat mixed answer—let’s look at why.
Ultimately, getting video in-camera is always the better option, whether you’re filming stunts, effects, or lighting. We can add vertical resolution to that list, too. Organically filming vertically will save you a heap of post-production work. It will also help you avoid framing errors, and allows you to view your content on-location and adjust as needed.
Likewise, if you’re filming at 4K to deliver for a 1080×1920 vertical upload, the downsampled 4k footage will look inherently better than cropped 4k footage. Downscaling your 4k footage can be worth the effort if you learn how to deal with the compression.
However, for those with just the basic equipment, mounting your camera vertically isn’t always a possibility. You will find the 1/4-20 UNC thread that attaches your tripod’s quick-release plates to your camera underneath the camera (unless using a battery grip). You could rotate the plate 90 degrees so the camera sits on the tripod sideways, then tilt the tripod head down to obtain stationary vertical video. However, you do this at the expense of not being able to use the tripod to pan and tilt.
Thankfully, there are several inexpensive tools available that will allow you to safely mount the camera in a vertical position. Start your search with either an L bracket or a camera cage.
Cameras primarily mount from underneath the body, so you can lose access to tools on the side of the camera. For example, if you vertically mount the BMPCC4K on its right side, you lose access to the memory card slot. If you mount it on its left side, you’re unable to use HDMI & DC power ports. It is not a huge deal, but it’s worth noting if you need quick access to your ports or card.
Quick tips about filming vertically.
- Due to the lack of horizontal space, have your subject walk toward or away from the camera instead of walking from side to side.
- Slight camera shake is noticeable in standard landscape video; it’s even more jarring with vertical video.
- Landscape video offers a means for the audience to examine the whole picture. However, vertical video has a very tall and narrow viewing area, so you want to keep your subject center.
- Make sure your LCD auto-rotate function is turned on.
- Fill the composition with tall subjects.
Landscape Video Cropped
Almost all vertical video platforms only accept a 1080×1920 vertical upload at max. So, is there a need to film vertical when you can shoot in 4k? (If your camera can only shoot in 1080p, use the suggested tools to mount the camera vertically.)
When 4k was introduced to moderately inexpensive mirrorless and DLSR cameras, it allowed filmmakers and videographers to reframe, crop, and punch in on content uploaded at 1080p. And now, with the advent of 6k, you can crop and reframe for 4k uploads. Look at the guidelines set by those social media websites (listed below) that use vertical video. These sites broadcast vertical video at a maximum of 1080×1920, and mobile devices stream 1080p video, if not just 720p.
Therefore, it’s not entirely impractical to film horizontally and then crop your footage when editing. With many newer cameras, you can set the aspect ratio overlays to make sure you are correctly framing for vertical content. You can also use gaffer or electrical tape to create a matte on your LCD screen.
Quick tips about filming horizontally to then crop.
- Framed your shot perfectly? Bring the camera back a step. It’s better to shoot that extra bit wider to accommodate for framing mistakes.
- Just like filming vertically, camera shake is going to become more noticeable when you reduce the viewing area of the video clip.
- Shoot at the highest resolution possible.
- Different platforms host different sized vertical videos. Make sure your aspect ratio overlay corresponds to the correct platform.
- Filming two people talking? Have them stand a few feet apart. Although this will look odd in widescreen framing. When you bring the video into editing, you can cut two shots from the same video clip.
While this is a reliable method, there is also a certain impracticality in filming normally to produce landscape content and cut that landscape footage into a social media cut. We meticulously craft our frames and composition to tell a story, but this is quickly lost when we reduce the aspect ratio to suit an Instagram story. As such, the message might not be as visible when viewing in other manners. Likewise, certain shots such as a mid-shot on an actor’s face may become an extreme closeup when we reduce the viewing resolution.
So, if you’re entering a project with the understanding that you will also be delivering a social cut, consider how you can frame the shots to work in both circumstances. Making the shot that extra bit wider, for example, is a good start.
Reformatting Horizontal Video for Vertical output In Post
If the content you are using were originally shot horizontally, we would need to reform the footage within your editing software.
This is an effortless task to complete. All you need to do is go to your NLE’s timeline settings and change the aspect ratio to 9:16 (1080×1920). Make sure your video clips are set to fill the viewer and not “crop to fit.”
However, I implore you to download this 9:16 letterbox. Apply it above your video track and reduce the opacity to 50%.
What does this do? If you haven’t framed your shots for a 9:16 delivery, you will likely need to reposition your footage. With the letterbox PNG file at reduced opacity, you can see what part of your footage you need to reframe before you adjust parameters. Once you have correctly framed your footage, delete the overlay, and change the timeline settings to the correct vertical ratio.
This is useful when using FCP or DaVinci Resolve. Premiere, however, is one-stop ahead of the curve with their Auto Reframe function. This tool is explicitly devised to reframe your shots automatically. Thankfully we already have a tutorial covering this specific feature.
Common aspect ratios for social media platforms
Just like widescreen footage, there’s a variety of vertical aspect ratios. Unfortunately, this is less to do with lens and artistic choice, and more because each platform has a different formula in its display content.
Let’s look at ratios for the most popular platforms.
For the most part, across the leading platforms that hosts a “story” function, vertical video should be exported at 9:16 (1080×1920).
This is the most straightforward aspect ratio to conform to, as it’s just as simple as rotating your standard 16:9 footage or camera. Beyond 9:16, things start to get more complicated.
- 9:16 (1080×1920) – Instagram Stories, IGTV, TikTok, Snapchat, and Facebook Stories
- 4:5 (1080×1350) – Instagram Gallery
- 2:3 (1080 x1620) – Facebook Feed
- 1:1 (1080×1080) – Instagram Gallery and Facebook Feed
Note, these dimensions are based on the maximum recommended resolution for a vertical video.
While the inherent distaste to vertical video is slowly fading away, there are still those who are reluctant to warm to the format. To an extent, I understand it. But the tall and narrow video format has become an inescapable part of the content of today. Ultimately, if you want to grow your platform, you will sooner or later need to adhere to the new norm.
Pick up even more pro video production tips with these articles: