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Improvisation: Vertical Videos Offer iPad Users a New Experience

Smartphones, tablets, and rotating monitors make it possible for users to watch videos in a vertical format that was never possible on conventional screens. Here are 10 tips for filmmakers who want to produce vertical videos.
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Over the last 100 years, motion pictures have been almost exclusively produced in a horizontal aspect ratio for theaters, projectors, televisions and computer screens (e.g. 4:3 and 16:9). Suddenly, smartphones, tablets, rotating monitors and lightweight projectors make it possible for users to watch videos in a vertical format that was never possible on conventional screens in the past (i.e. 3:4 or 9:16 ratio, or "vertical videos"). Vertical videos require filmmakers to improvise with equipment not designed to produce videos in this way.

To explore the aesthetics of the vertical video format, I filmed, edited and produced a vertical video documentary about India called Curry Power. The 10-minute documentary is a musical collage that features tigers, camel polo, holy men, dancers and live music by renowned musicians Pete Lockett and Wasifuddin Dagar. During the Curry Power production process, I did not have access to a tripod for vertical videos or customized video-editing software for post-production. Here are 10 useful insights and tips for filmmakers who want to produce vertical videos.


1. Composition

Professional photographers have always used the vertical aspect ratio to capture extraordinary images, which explains why some compositions are better suited for a vertical aspect ratio than a horizontal aspect ratio. Musicians on a stage, runway models, train tracks disappearing into the distance, close-up portraits, skyscrapers and trees beg for a vertical video to capture their inherent beauty: the essence of their form, flow and function is vertical.

2. Orientation

Visual artists have often experimented with vertical videos in art installations and have enjoyed varying success; vertical projections are nothing new, yet they are remarkably unconventional.

Our eyes are not oriented vertically like a flounder or Cyclops, so it feels unnatural for us to watch moving images that are framed vertically on a screen. Tablets and smartphones are small enough, however, so we can comfortably watch vertical videos without getting migraines. A large, life-size projection of a vertical video stimulates our senses differently than a horizontal video because our orientation to the ground is vertical and humans "come to life" on the vertical screen.

3. Camera Design

Video cameras are not designed to film vertically, unless they are turned sideways or incorporated in a handheld device like a smartphone (which then classifies the device as a phone, not a camera). SLR cameras with high-definition video functionality are great for producing vertical videos; turn the camera sideways and start filming. These cameras enable the user to control the depth of field, F-stop, ISO and shutter speed to maximize the professional quality of a vertical video.

4. Perspective

The vertical video format requires a video-maker to position himself or herself at unconventional or oblique angles from a scene to include more visual information in the foreground and background of the image. Snapping a vertical image before filming a vertical video helps to "storyboard," or plan out a sequence in a visual story, especially at an unscripted or improvised moment.

5. Tripods

Tripods always mount to the bottom of horizontally-oriented cameras, which makes it difficult to use a tripod to produce vertical videos, unless the ball-head of the tripod can tilt 90 degrees. The best solution for keeping a vertical video steady is by using an extra battery pack with a grip for an SLR camera. The battery pack adds enough weight to stabilize an image. It also helps to use a lens with an image stabilizer and tuck elbows in close to the body.

6. Editing

Filming sideways with an SLR camera to produce a vertical video means that the video footage will appear sideways when it is imported and displayed on a computer screen. Sometimes video editing programs do not offer a vertical preview option. When a vertical preview option is available, editing a vertical video on a horizontal screen limits the viewing surface area. The best solution for editing a vertical video is by using an external computer monitor to preview the sideways footage; position the monitor vertically by mounting it on a 1-foot electric guitar stand.

7. Audience

Commercial video production is horizontal because the majority of all content distributors broadcast to conventional, horizontal screens (e.g. network television, cable, YouTube, etc.). With millions of smartphones and tablets in the hands of consumers, the audience for vertical videos is a huge, untapped market.

8. Public Spaces

Even though we read books, posters, signs and advertisements in a vertical format, the majority of producers abide by horizontal conventions when they make their videos. Imagine when every vertical billboard, advertisement or digital page will display vertical videos: endless opportunity.

9. Communication

Communication applications such as Apple's "Facetime" use a vertical video format to give users a personal feeling when they chat in real time. At some point in the future, all digital communication devices will have the capacity to broadcast video content in real time, so a "Facetime" experience will eventually merge with real time vertical video storytelling techniques.

10. New Media

Vertical videos offer new opportunities for filmmakers willing to improvise within the confines of convention. By sharing stories vertically and broadcasting content specifically for devices like the iPad, it will be possible for us to push the boundaries of new media and explore innovative ways of relating to each other when we document the stories of our everyday lives.

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