Mobile-first strategy must embrace prevalence of & preference for vertical video screens ::i.e. mobile phones::

Vertical framing

Mobile presents a difficult situation for video. It makes more ergonomic sense to hold a device vertically, using our thumbs for tapping and swiping, but our natural visual perspective is horizontal. Apps like Snapchat and Periscope are starting to turn the tide on horizontal video’s technological ubiquity, but there are still issues in how our brain processes movement that can make vertical video an uncomfortable experience.

Read the full piece at

I’m increasingly bullish about vertical video.

Or at least the need for making vertical video work rather than just defaulting to the our-eyes-are-side-by-side-for-a-reason argument. Ideas such as split screen to fit traditional framing into default mobile screen orientation seem like a kludge to try to force a horizontal peg into a vertical hole.

I haven’t been able to find any scientific backing for the idea that vertical video is an actual problem for people or even (as this piece said) an “uncomfortable experience.” Maybe it’s not the first choice if all things were equal. I’ll grant I wouldn’t want to sit for long in a movie theater with a big vertical screen making me have to keep looking up and down (an iMax is almost too much for me as it is).

But it turns out that vertical video on a phone really does not cause any kind of issues when human vertical perception is 135 degrees, horizontal perception is 200 degrees, and we’re talking about a small screen held less than half a meter away that occupies (and focuses for the moment all our attention) on no more than a 12- to 18-degree field of view no matter what orientation you hold it.

In fact, the most significant issue for satisfaction in watching video (beside audio quality) is size of the image — which means two things:

  1. We probably won’t see a lot of video-watching on smartwatches.
  2. Shrinking the size of someone’s face down to the size of a pea as viewed in a horizontal video on a vertically held mobile phone and wasting the other two-thirds of the available screen real estate is kind of shooting ourselves in the head as storytellers.

That’s all in addition to the point made in this piece that millennial media participants are being increasingly oriented (pun intended) to vertical video through their use of apps like Snapchat and Periscope.

So our challenge, I think, is to come up with the professional techniques that make vertical work best.

  • Does the rule of thirds change in some way, for instance? Maybe the horizontal visual sweet spots in vertical framing are hanging off the extreme right or left edges rather than a third of the way in from the edges.
  • Maybe linear tracking is more effective than horizontal panning (which unfortunately knocks out the bike-handlebars trick and bucks up the market for handheld stabilizers).
  • There are clear implications on titling and lower-thirds.
  • My experience is that it changes how you think about tight, medium and wide shots.
  • It forces you to pay a lot more attention to head room and foreground aspects than you do with horizontal shots.
  • And the biggie seems to be that it requires the videographer, particularly the spontaneous news videographer, to work a lot harder anticipating what action is going to suddenly come into frame from left or right since you’ll have almost no time compared to what you had in horizontal shots to adjust camera handling to catch it and keep it in the field of view. We definitely don’t want to start having a lot of swing shots where something whips across the screen going in the other direction until the camera can swing back to pick it back up receding from us.

I’m looking closely at making intentionally vertical video a major aspect of one of my Newsplexer Projects.