Vertical Video Explained

Vertical vs WidescreenWidescreen vs Vertical is a discussion I have had many times before. Instagram is bringing the conversation to the forefront, again, with the launch of IGTV. I have read about how they are competing with YouTube. The world travels faster than ever before and we absorb so much media that it’s easy to forget the past. Even if that past was last summer.

Last summer, YouTube began to allow us to watch vertically shot videos in full screen on a smartphone. We can watch a widescreen (horizontal) video on a smartphone by turning the phone sideways to resemble the widescreen on our laptops and television display screens and the theater screens. Instagram is owned by Facebook. Facebook has been competing with YouTube for some time and even brought the Facebook Watch feature to its platform with native uploading of your videos and Facebook Live. The latest attempt follows their increase in time on Instagram from 15 seconds to 1 minute.

Enough history of the battle to rule video on social media. If YouTube wanted to compete with Facebook, it would turn it’s platform into a social media platform but it is the best video platform due to the fact that it allows users to upload many videos and create unlimited playlists and embed and share videos just about anywhere online. Even if it is a bit slower to upload and the quality is not as good as Vimeo’s, it’s still free which allows anyone to share videos even if they cannot afford to eat pizza.

When it comes to shooting vertical or landscape I have reservations about vertical video. There is a reason for that. It limits viewing to a phone or some customized digital displays. Because my business is about empowering people who shoot using smartphones to share their stories, I actually don’t recommend it IF you would like to share your video everywhere to get the most reach. You can watch a widescreen video on your smartphone full screen (unlock the rotation feature on your phone if it is not working for you).

However, there is still a reason for recording vertical video.

Vertical Phone

First of all, the best way for me to explain the differences is simple. When recording, vertical format is useful when you would like to limit and control your viewer’s focus and attention to a subject. When recording horizontal/widescreen format it’s about recording your subject within a scene.

Shooting a movie in widescreen format shares the “whole” story as compared to shooting your movie in vertical format. I have compared the practice to peeking. It’s like peeking in a lit room, in the dark, where the door is not fully open. If you could, you would open the door all the way to look inside. Your mind wants you to and it can be distracting to your viewer. The reason for the distraction is that our natural vision is widescreen. If you are reading this on a screen or even on a sheet of paper, you can still see the scene around it.

Horizontal PhoneHorses wear blinders in order to stay focused on the path in front of them and limit them from distractions around them. This may be your goal when you are recording video which you intend to be watched on a phone.

I find the new feature on Instagram useful and limiting. For example, it limits its users by attempting to contain watching on Instagram only. This means, that most likely at some point, you will begin to see ads on these videos. At least that is where I believe that is leading.

But the new feature is useful for users who would like to keep the focus on their subject such as themselves or another person. If the person in the frame is moving it can be challenging if they are not holding the phone/camera. That is because you don’t have much room before they are out of frame. But if the person is you, then you can extend the phone and record yourself whether you are pacing or walking in any direction and stay in the frame.

It is very common to see ourselves in a situation where we are talking to our viewers using video and I believe that is a good use for vertical video. If you are in your messy room and don’t want people to see your surroundings, then vertical video is good. It limits the view of your surrounding and causing a distraction for your viewers. It is also useful for your personal branding videos where you are speaking to your followers and want them to focus on you as you focus on them by sharing a story or information with them directly or en masse. Social media loves the selfie concept and our connected phone cameras are ideal for that.

However, our camera phones can also shoot movies and share stories. Stories are fuller when they include scenes. The scenes in your stories and in your videos enrich your stories. So if you are sharing a scene with your viewers, then it is probably a good idea to record widescreen. Inform your viewers to unlock rotation on their phone to watch your widescreen video full screen. And of course, you may wish to unlock it before you record so it displays correctly online.

Brian Hennings Intv MFF2017
Brian Hennings smartphone interview International Mobile Film Festival 2017, San Diego.

Hey are you interested in making movies with your phone? Are you a YouTuber or Vlogger or a Mobile Filmmaker? If you are shooting videos with your smartphone, use the hashtag #mobilizestories and join the community to share, support and learn from others like you. Submit your videos in a monthly themed contest at and become the ultimate storyteller!


© 2018 S. Botello Productions™ All rights reserved.


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