When shooting a video with a smartphone or tablet, you might be tempted to hold the device vertically. This is how you do it when making a call, texting, or shooting some still photos. But when making a video, shooting vertically is usually a bad idea. Here’s why shooting wide (in the horizontal or landscape mode) is the way to go:
Reason 1. Our natural way of seeing is horizontal. This derives from the side-by-side arrangement of our eyes. Shooting wide reflects the way we see.
Reason 2. The film industry has trained audiences to expect films that are wider than tall. Thomas Edison established this standard in 1909. When TV came along, it quickly went along with the landscape orientation. Starting in 1952 with the advent of Cinerama, the ratio has varied–usually toward an increasingly wide screen. You can find a concise history of aspect ratio here.
Reason 3. YouTube and most other online hosts exhibit video horizontally. If you upload a video that was shot vertically, when you play it back the image will appear vertically but there will be two black bars bracketing the shot. In essence, you are wasting screen space. The same problem occurs if you’re exhibiting vertically shot video on TV or in movie theaters.
- If you intend to show your movies only on your phone, you won’t have the black-bar problem.
- If you’re filming subjects that are taller than wide—for example, people, giraffes, and skyscrapers—don’t be tempted to shoot vertically. Instead, move further back until the subject is within the frame. Or, to emphasize its height, aim the camera at the bottom of the subject and then move upward. This is called a tilt shot.
- Understand that shooting wide is not a law; it’s a convention. While your videos will generally seem more professional when shot in the landscape orientation, some filmmakers have chosen to exploit the strange look of vertical videos, especially for comic effect. Simon O’Neill’s “Tell Me About Yourself” is a delightful example.