The vertical revolution turning video on its head

Anyone with experience in media and marketing knows it’s a fast-moving landscape.

Sorry, did I say landscape? Maybe I should have said vertical because right now we’re experiencing a fundamental shift in how media is both produced and consumed – the vertical video revolution.

Ever since motion pictures were created more than a century ago, we’ve been accustomed to watching them in a horizontal format, a.k.a. landscape. Every film, show, news bulletin or advert we ever saw (until recently) was produced for a cinema, TV or PC screen. But now smartphones are turning our viewing habits on their head – or their side to be more precise.

By the end of this year one-third of the world’s population will own a smartphone. Here in Australia, more than 7 million smartphone users say they ‘can’t live without’ their device.

This smartphone explosion has driven the shift to vertical viewing.

It’s natural for us to grasp objects by their narrowest points (not their broadest) and so we’ve quickly grown used to using handheld devices in an upright position.

Most video content, however, continues to be produced for horizontal screens – although the marketing and advertising industries are adapting quickly.

Spending on vertical video ads is surging, especially in the US, and it’s easy to see why. An ad or digital piece that uses the available screen to maximum effect obviously packs a more powerful visual punch than a much smaller shot sandwiched between blocks of black. Industry research has demonstrated that vertical videos hugely increase audience engagement on mobile devices.

What does this mean for cameramen (or video producers)?

Well, I started my first job at TNQ7 in North Queensland in 1976, shooting on 16mm film, which I had to process and edit myself – so I’ve seen a few technological changes over the years! But where previous tech-driven changes made the job of shooting film or video easier, this change is the first that fundamentally changes how we use cameras.

Panning shots, for instance, don’t work particularly well on vertical screens. Vertical shots may need to be tighter than most camera operators are used to (especially as smartphone screens are small to begin with).

I’m fortunate in having experience as a photographer as well as a cameraman. Snappers are trained to look for and compose both vertical and horizontal images, especially if they are working for newspapers and magazines. But we do not naturally ‘see’ vertically.

Remember, the horizontal format developed because it matches our natural vision. So, visual agility will be increasingly important in mobile-driven media.

Some cameramen, shooting for vertical, are ensuring their video quality is maintained by turning their cameras on their sides to shoot – and then editing on screens which are turned upright. Filming horizontally and then severely cropping either side of the shot will reduce picture quality but allows the flexibility to produce both horizontal and vertical work.

Even the BBC does it…

There’s a lot for my fellow camera guys and girls to think about but, in my experience, there’s no problem we can’t overcome with a little ingenuity and imagination.

We might not be the talent that everyone sees on their smartphone or TV but we make the magic happen – whatever shape the screen!

Geoff Stock

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