Making vertical videos can seem absurd, or at least it was until the invention of Instagram et al it has become more and more common for professionals to deliver vertical video with ‘horizontal’ equipment. We have put together a brief overview of the techniques that can be used below.

1- The context

More than 7 years ago, a video was uploaded onto YouTube called ‘Vertical Video Syndrome’, and has since achieved more than 8 million views. The authors’ idea was to show how stupid it was to shoot vertically when everything is planned to watch content horizontally – our field of vision, cinemas, television and so on. It is a different story these days thanks to the widespread use of smartphones to either capture content or to consumer it on.


Click on image to watch video

As everyone knows, a phone stands vertically. Instagram was not mistaken when it introduced the format ‘square’ – viewable in both directions – before it then pushed all users to produce vertically with its ‘Stories’ and now IGTV (Instagram TV), whose ratio is 9/16th – 1080/1920. The rest have since followed: Facebook, YouTube and even Vimeo all now support portrait mode.


Only 25% of the screen is used in landscape mode for a”normal” video. The 2017 study shows that 90% of users only use the vertical mode… Source: InMobi.

So what does this have to do with us, the traditional video and film buffs? Well, if  you have delivered videos for clients to place onto any of these platforms then the chances are you’ve already had requests for vertical production, whilst adverts now often require deliveries in multiple aspect ratios so that they can be placed on display screens and smartphones simultaneously.

2- The problems posed by vertical video

Whilst they may appear to be obvious, we can summarise this change by the fact that portrait mode gives pride of place to the subject without capturing the whole scene like the image below.

vertical-versus horizontal

Source: flickr

The more traditional approach would be to focus the subject and detach it from the context from which it surrounds through use of bokeh for example. But anyway, back to our problems faced with vertical video. These include:

  • Restricted field of vision  – as obvious as it sounds, if you want to show a context, the image must be panoramic
  • Camera sensor –  as they tend to be horizontal, this means that vertical video only uses a small part of the sensor as a result of the crop. Even if you were to flip it over by 90 degrees, the stabilisation will not be good as it was never intended to work in this direction, and that’s not forgetting the fact that the information on the screen will be flipped – not practical, particularly if a gimbal is being used!
  • Composition of image – all the rules that you have ever worked with on composing an image go out the window, therefore careful framing must be considered. This can be further complicated when a client asks for two versions of the same film – one vertical and the other horizontal.
Aspect ratio for social

The war of ratios. Source:

3- Technical solutions

There is still a perception that a professional camera offers much better image rendering than their current smartphone. In fact, it reminds us of the time when we had to prove that a professional camera offered more than a family camcorder. Nonetheless, unlike photographers whom work in both modes, in video we have to adapt.

  • A: crop a 4K/UHD image.
    Vertical video mistake

    Typically, without help markers during shooting, there’s always a risk of getting cut subjects. It can’t be made up.


    The most obvious solution is to take a 4K image measuring 2160 lines in height, as you only need 1920 lines in 9:16 format. This solution allows you to deliver two versions of the film in both landscape and portrait, but also to make false movements in post-production to simulate panorama. Be aware that at the time of writing, no camera yet offers a 9:16 guide and that you would have to make your own markers on your lenses with an erasable felt pen. This is because without this guide, you’ll never know where the image will be cut.

  • B: The 90° camera.

Whilst it is definitely the most restrictive solution in that you would not be able to deliver two versions of the same films, however it’s also the safest. What you can be sure of is the composition of the image. To do this, you can use:

– An L-adapter (L bracket)
– The roll motor of a gimbal (i.e. on the Ronin-S) by fixing it at 90°
– A ball head that is also able to rotate 90°- the cage of your camera or DSLR
. As it is normally full of threaded holes on the sides, it is often possible to put it in portrait mode on the sole of your tripod.

  • C: Dress a horizontal video

The final option that we suggest is to dress a horizontal video. Whilst this would mean that you would have a video that would already have been shot in 16:9, you would have to dress the remaining 75% of space around the image in order to populate the space through the use of animated backgrounds and titles as per the image below. This would also mean that you would not be able to deliver 4K.

Instagram to horizontal video

4- Post-Production and Distribution

All editing software is capable of creating projects that are the size and ratio that you desire. The only pitfall can be either sending video or the standards implemented by social media channels. For example, Instagram videos originally could only last up to 1 minute – however, with the introduction of IGTV this has increased to 10 minutes. From a Mac or workstation, either copy the final movie to your phone to publish, or use third-party software including Flume (Max OS) or Gramblr (Windows).Flume

5- Conclusion

Whether we agree or find the concept of vertical video ridiculous, the figures do not lie and show that the demand for video production as 9:16 ‘portrait’ ratio or a minimum of two formats continues to increase. We should prepare for it because it is clear that smartphone technology is here to stay for the foreseeable, particularly in terms of how we watch content, and that is only going to increase.

Ultimately it forces us to rethink our framing and production rules, and in fact it is pretty ease to be creative when delivering a ‘vertical’ image. We recommend you visit the Vertical Video Festival website, where you will find films that show that you can also work beautifully and vertically. Here is the teaser of the last edition, the next one taking place in September.

2nd Vertical Film Festival trailer 2016 (vertical video) from Vertical Film Festival on Vimeo.