When to film vertically – and when NOT to

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Have you ever come across the term ”VVS” or ”Vertical Video Syndrome”? 

The word gained popularity a few years into the rise of social media, as more and more people started filming with their smartphone to share day-to-day-life clips. (”Look – I’m having lunch!”).

Some of the fore-mentioned people started filming vertically; in turn causing an UPROAR amongst people who felt strongly about the traditional 16:9 format of videos. Not to mention: at that time vertical videos didn’t fit any of the contemporary media players.

Whether you were a part of the infuriated horizontal crew, or the bewildered vertical crew – it isn’t hard to see why this filming habit came to be.

Despite games, apps and a few other functionalities demanding that you hold your smartphone with both hands, the reality is that most of the time single hand manoeuvring is the way to go.

Let’s imagine that you’re at a concert watching your favourite band. Suddenly they decide to play THAT song. THE song. You feel the adrenalin. You feel the rush! You’re experiencing a this-can-not-be-allowed-to-be-forgotten moment.

You dig up your phone, holding it like you usually hold it, and click rec – not at all considering the correct technique or acceptable video formats. Because most people don’t. 

Shooting vertically has become a thing for a reason, proven more so by the fact that most social media platforms have adapted their media players to fit both square and 4:5 (portrait) formats.

So… when is it appropriate to embrace these modern standards, and when is it best to keep it safe and conservative?

Here are a few guidelines to situations when and where your content should (or shouldn’t) be filmed vertically. Probably. 

When to shoot vertically:

A big reason why the vertical format has gained such popularity in recent years is the rise of social media “stories”. First introduced by Snapchat, stories are short and (usually) temporary video clips that you upload completely unedited (with the exception of filters and cool effects) to your profile. In contrast to normal ”posts”, these stories convey a ”live” feeling – as they’re usually more spontaneous and disappear after 24 hours.

Although Snapchat may have been the inventor, the real breakthrough for the stories format came in 2017, when companies like Instagram and Facebook started adapting it – subsequently adding more features to it (like live streaming).

Stories were a big hit. Not just among ”normal” users, but companies and advertisers too.

This is where vertical shooting is best utilised: producing quick “on-the-fly” content that viewers consume on their smartphones.

It could be small updates, announcements and even content related to an ongoing event. Basically any type of info that consumers would benefit from in the moment, but wouldn’t want clogging up their normal feed.

Along with the vertical format’s ability to make the footage both relatable and mobile friendly, producing stories is a great way to peak the interest of your audience – if only for a short while.

It does have its limitations though which will be discussed below.

When NOT to shoot vertically

As concluded above, vertical video in general (and stories in particular) is great when producing fast, easy to digest content, and it definitely has its place in todays flow of information.

However in some cases you want to produce something more long lasting that doesn’t burn out as quickly. This is where traditional horizontal filming starts to shine.

Interviews, employer branding videos or more substantial updates — these are the type of videos that lend themselves to more focused and undisturbed viewings, meaning that the audience takes their time to actively consume the content, rather than stumbling over it in the social media buzz.

If you have a story to tell – the tested filming techniques of old gives you the tools to tell it effectively, and horizontal filming plays a big part in that.

Now you can work with traditional composition and framing, while also using helpful tools like lav-mics (see our ”How to?”-episode on lav mics here) and tripods.

Essentially when you are to produce something that requires more planning and preparation – horizontal filming is the way to go.

There is, after all, a reason why so much in film production has been standardised: It simply works. And you should use that to your advantage.

Another upside of producing more long lasting content is the incorporation of text. When posting stories you can add text elements to the video to emphasise certain key aspects, but it gets complicated when you have a larger body of text including, say, phone numbers and url:s.

This is info you can instead add to your traditional post as it lets the viewer look up the specifics even when the video isn’t rolling.

But then you might ask yourself “If horizontal filming is so great — why not use it all across the board? Even on social media and stories”.

And you can! …at least partially. It is still quite common to see 16:9 videos popping up on social media feeds after all, but it is also important to keep in mind how people today consume information in general and video in particular. With everything being available at all times it is crucial to be able to navigate the audience’s attention in an effective way.

As stated earlier: different formats fill different needs.

There are times when you just need to get something out with a moments notice and there are times when you want to publish something more thorough. The two work together in a way that makes for the most successful results, and ”just like poetry — it rhymes” ( – George Lucas ).

Conclusion

As with most things in life, these suggestions are highly subjective and in no way absolute.

Did you shoot an interview vertically? Did it do the job for your target audience? Great! Keep em coming!

It is however never a bad idea to have these tips in mind when you’re about to produce content. By considering what format works best in what situation you tend to not only to decide what is the best way to broadcast it but to also view your project from a different angle; coming up with new ideas and improvements in the process.

Being aware of how and when your audience consumes content can maximise the impact of your message which should be the end goal.

Certain content shines brighter in certain formats, and on certain platforms. Mastering the art of knowing when to post what and where is therefore bound to increase your success in the long run.

So keep experimenting and test out what works best for you. After all: the best content is the content that get produced.

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