It used to be that posting vertical video online was seen as shameful and unprofessional — the sign of a true amateur. Today, it’s how the majority of content on many social media channels is not only consumed, but also produced.
This, of course, means it’s in your best interest to make vertical video a part of your workflow, in all steps of your creation process. Figuring out how best to frame your subject, choosing subjects that work best vertically, and actually knowing which aspect ratios are considered vertical are just a few of the things to understand as you start your process.
1. Know Your Aspect Ratios
Vertical video refers to anything taller than a 1:1 aspect ratio. 4:5, 2:3, and fully vertical (FV) 1:1.77 (also known as 9:16), are all taller than they are wide, which works better for social media or for being viewed vertically on mobile devices and tablets. The one distinct advantage that 9:16 FV has is that it can be the most immersive, because it utilizes the entirety of a vertical screen.
Vertical video can either be produced vertically by framing the camera portrait style, or it can be created in editing by scaling and/or cropping video into a vertical aspect ratio.
Capturing video vertically takes out a lot of the guesswork, because you’re already planning for the vertical frame as you’re setting up your shot. Cropping horizontal footage can be troublesome, because a true 9:16 vertical frame at standard HD resolution is going to be much taller than a horizontal HD frame straight out of the camera, and will also need to be scaled — which can result in very pixelated and low-quality footage.
A good compromise is to shoot 4K horizontally (most smartphones and tablets already shoot 4K) and crop in the sides to 9:16, which won’t need to be scaled. This will actually give you extra pixels to work with above/below the 9:16 (HD) frame that you can use to re-position as you prefer, and it allows you to keep the full horizontal footage for more landscape-friendly projects. The same also applies to any 4K or higher resolution footage that you purchase from Pond5.
2. Catch the Eye Immediately
We all know that if you don’t immediately entice users on social media, they’re likely to move on — so put your most interesting and provocative visuals up front. GIFs, colorful stop-motion or looping animations, beautiful shots of nature, and cute or funny animals are all great for hooking viewers. The thing that will keep them around, however, is consistency, so try to follow up the first couple of shots with something that either matches the color scheme, tone, or your overall brand personality.
3. Split the Screen
Since your vertical frame is so tall, you can try using it to creatively stack multiple horizontal clips on top of each other. These clips can be related in content and look, or they can actually be positioned to appear like there’s a seamless blend between them. There have been a few great music videos that used this technique.
Try using any natural lines or patterns in the clips to position them in the most creative way possible. You can even experiment with diagonal lines, or with putting together more than two clips.
4. Get Close to Your Subject
One of the biggest positives to shooting with a vertical frame is the fact that you can get closer to vertical-friendly subjects, creating a more intimate, immersive experience. Remember that most of the action in your video is going to be positioned in the center as people are scrolling through their feeds, which can sometimes cause parts of the video to be cut off awkwardly. By also giving your video some headroom, you can make sure that when your main subject is front and center, there’s nothing that gets cut off or covered up by any built-in text from the user interface. Plus, it leaves room for text, emojis, and stickers.
5. Fill the Vertical Space
Once you get close to the subject, especially if that subject is more vertical-friendly, you automatically start to fill the empty space within the frame. However, there are creative ways to fill the vertical space when the subject isn’t quite a personal, up-close shot. You can raise the camera up high and tilt it down, giving you a deep frame to film things like a long, empty road, cyclists riding in a line, and so on. Or you can get a bird’s-eye view from above your subject like in popular food videos, offering a new and interesting perspective that also serves a purpose.
You also have the ability to frame your subject from below, creating a more imposing or powerful shot. This can be used to get someone’s entire body or other subject in the frame without having to be further away.
6. Use the Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds is a photography rule that says not to place the main subject directly in the center of the frame. Instead, you can create more dynamic and interesting compositions if you draw imaginary horizontal and vertical lines that divide your frame into thirds, and place your subject either on the lines or where the lines meet up. Most cameras and phones even give you the option to add a grid to the screen to use as a guide.
Of course, this doesn’t work in every case, but it can be great to experiment with lining up your subjects on the lines, because you can really emphasize certain parts of the frame simply by placing them over those lines and intersections.
7. Avoid Fast Side-to-Side Movements
Shaky camera movements are almost always unwanted and distracting to people watching a video. Since vertical video has so little screen real estate on the sides, it’s especially important that you try to avoid moving the camera from side to side too fast. Normal pans and 360 rotations are perfectly acceptable and can actually be very important to show a scene, but once they become too fast, cameras, and even our brains, can’t keep up with the information.
8. Vary Your Angles and Shot Types
Filming vertically doesn’t mean that everything needs to be shot at arm’s length and eye-level. Do your best to mix up your shot length and camera angles to make your videos more interesting, and work within the frame to create something unique. If you’re doing something like an interview or vlog style video, break up the on-camera talking with a more engaging close up of the subject’s face that takes up the entire frame.
9. Use Text and Graphics
Your text should complement your visuals, so that means using it in the space where your subject isn’t. This is the same for any graphics, emojis, or stickers you plan on using. Scale them up, rotate them, and line them up where they best enhance your video.
One basic technique you can do yourself is scaling up a colorful animation or gif to fill the entire screen, adding a solid over the top, then using the eraser tool to draw your text. The background will now play through the erased letters.
You can also animate the text with basic keyframing in Adobe Premiere Pro or After Effects. After Effects has built-in animation presets that can even be previewed and pulled in from Adobe Bridge.
Creating vertical videos is not only important for building your brand and getting more engagement on your social channels, but also a great way to push yourself creatively. By working within the constraints posed by vertical video and adjusting your storytelling to fit, you can come up with a new visual style and expand your skills even more.