Horizontal or Vertical?

The fact that my computer screen is horizontal, my TV is horizontal, theater screens are horizontal, and almost every other camera format (apart form smart phones) creates a horizontal picture (OK, anyone remember 120 film which Kodak invented for their Brownie? - its format was almost square!) and, oh, the fact that when you play back vertical phone video on almost every device you get black side bars filling out the screen, isn't all that irrelevant?

Ms. Stern makes the point that it's easier to scroll down a webpage in vertical mode. Indeed,webpages are optimized for mobile use in part by allowing for vertical viewing. She goes on to argue that like a book or newspaper, a smart phone feels better and reads better upright. As I read her comments i couldn't help notice the 5 column layout of the WSJ. Ouch!

My favorite was her capper, "It's called 'Portrait Mode' for a reason!" Yes, wide screen format is a composition probem for a lot of people-including many filmmakers and media professionals. And lets face it, most people shoot smart phone video vertically because it's convenient.

The author, an excellent journalist, backs up her premise with stats. She cites Snapchat's finding that viewing of vertical videos is "nine times more likely to be completed than horizontal ones," as proof that people dont want to bother turning their phone 90 degrees to view horiz videos. And Ms Stern also quotes authorities such as Adam Sebire, the founder of the Vertical Video Film Festival in Australia. My love of all things Aussie not withstanding, her citations are not impartial. But this was not a news story it was opinion on the front page of a section on culture—the front page no less!

Despite my troglodyte tendencies, I recognize that vertical video is changing the way we see things (pun intended) —if for no other reason than, like language, over time our standards adapt to popular usage. 

As a professional, I have to see it coming to my world. Probably not as an industry recording format because we humans still see horizontally (last time I looked our eyes are side by side not one on top of the other) but as a creative technique.

I don't think I've seen vertical video used in narrative storytelling other than shown playing back on a phone. No doubt there are documentaries that use actuality footage shot vertically on a phone. And of course, I've seen vertical video used in news which is becoming more common with on-scene citizen journalism. But start looking for it in film and TV dramas as a creative technique to capture the feeling of live, in-the-moment, actuality scenes. Heck, they're shooting whole features on iPhones, why not put a couple of people with smart phones into your feature film's next crime scene, riot, or car chase? The phones record in 8K so it's not a question of quality.

It's only a matter of time.

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Wednesday, 22 May 2019