On Vertical Videos

September 26th, 2015


The so-called “vertical video syndrome” is seen as a problem with cellphone users who are infected by it. I want to clear up a few things about the issue, why it’s probably not a problem (most of the time), and when it’s actually better to record videos in a vertical frame.

“Content is horizontal! You’re missing out on the action happening out of frame when recording in portrait.”

Not necessarily. Check out this video of a squirrel bomb diving a baseball dugout during a game.

Note the buildup and tension. The whole effect would be lost if this video was recorded in landscape and we could only see one bit of the picture. Instead, we are able to see the sky, squirrel, players out on the field, and parts of the crowd, all at the same time.

The reason we don’t see very many vertical videos like this is because up until a few years ago, everything was viewed in a landscape orientation. Now, companies like Snapchat are paying big money for vertical format ads, and seeing a 9x increase in completed views. And Youtube updated their app to better support portrait video playback. All because they took note of how people were using their devices, consuming content, and reacting to it.

“Videos are meant to be taken in landscape! Our eyes are designed to view things in a wide field of view.”

Are we meant to watch millions of tiny light bulbs flash in order? Just because our eyes are placed horizontally on our face doesn’t mean we are supposed to watch things in only a horizontal fashion.

The fact that a video can take up a larger field of view in landscape doesn’t make it a better format. There are many situations where a video that takes up less of your view could be advantageous. And even then, the distance we hold a phone from our eyes is far enough away so that we don’t have to move our eyes more than if we were watching something in a landscape orientation.

“Vertical videos look bad on my laptop. The black bars on each side of the video is a huge waste of space.”

Maybe the video wasn’t meant to be viewed on a larger device? With the advent of mobile video sharing apps like Periscope, Snapchat, and many others, the odds of someone looking at a mobile-recorded video on a desktop computer are getting smaller.

Imagine a world where you had to constantly rotate your phone back and forth every time you swiped to a new video, viewed it, and gave a reaction. Vertical videos allow for a more seamless user experience in social apps.

Sure, there are situations where recording in landscape makes sense and it would be stupid to record vertically. But this isn’t a rule that should be followed everywhere. If you are a content creator, be conscious of how your videos get viewed. If you are an app developer, understand your audience and how they use their devices.

And the next time you go to record a video on your phone, ask yourself: “Is the content I’m about to capture better framed in a vertical or horizontal video? What device or screen do I think the video will be viewed on? Will I have to deal with some jerk telling me to turn my phone as soon as I press record?”

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