No vertical video! Not now, not ever! It’s WRONG!

Ride of the Valkyrie. Think how disappointing 'Apocalypse Now' would have been if Coppola had shown just one Huey.

Ride of the Valkyrie: Think how disappointing ‘Apocalypse Now’ would have been if Coppola had shown just one Huey.

It’s bad enough that amateurs are providing video content to news organizations shot with their stupid smartphones in a vertical position — thereby causing us to miss most of what is going on, and having to look at those irritating black bars where we should be seeing something that provides us with additional perspective.

Now, we have professionals telling them not only that it’s OK to do that, but it’s the right way!

And their only excuse for doing that seems to be, Everybody’s screwing up this way, so let’s just say that’s the way to do it.

Here’s the latest apologia for shooting video the wrong way, from The Wall Street Journal:

It’s more comfortable to read things when the phone is standing up. Smartphones and their software were designed to fit in our hands. So why do we turn our phones to shoot and watch video? We shouldn’t. Those of us who used to scream, “You’re holding it wrong!”—we were really the ones who were wrong.

No, we were the ones who were right. We still are. We always will be. And everything you say, every example you provide, convinces me more of that.

The WSJ piece goes on:

Mobile video is exploding. Fifty-five percent of the world’s mobile traffic is now video, according to Cisco. And U.S. adults now spend 29 minutes a day watching video on their mobile devices, says eMarketer…

Yep, I’m one of those people. Although when I do watch video on my phone, I turn it sideways to see everything that’s going on. And of course if I’m near my Apple TV at home, I project it onto the TV screen — which is way more horizontal than TVs used to be, because the TV industry finally developed a rudimentary aesthetic sense. Because horizontal is the best way to present practically anything.

Notice how much better TV is now? I don’t think it’s an accident that it got better when it went horizontal. Who wants a closeup of Walter White standing there in his silly underpants? We need to see the RV and the desert spread out around him.


Vertical video is the unmistakable mark of the clueless — or of someone who’s hiding something, trying to make you look at this one thing rather than see the context in which that one thing is occurring.

Look, I can see being sympathetic. I could see writing a piece such as this one: “Defending vertical videos: They’re stupid, but it’s not your fault.

But defending them as the right way to do it? No. Never. That would be like saying reality TV is a good thing because lots of people watch it. Absolutely not.

Where am I? What's going on? Where's the rest of the picture?

Where am I? What’s going on? Where’s the rest of the picture?

4 thoughts on “No vertical video! Not now, not ever! It’s WRONG!

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    And the solution, pointed out in one of the links above, is so simple:

    Google’s new camera app tries to nip vertical videos in the bud by encouraging users to rotate their camera, complete with a little steering-wheel animation. That’s great. But here’s my question: why can’t phone cameras just let you shoot videos vertically, but record them horizontally?


    1. Mark Stewart

      That’s really the solution; a horizontal lens and make the control option of the preferred medium the vertical view.

      Remember that bone-headed idea of recording video before and after the shooter intended? Correcting in this manner (horizontal video) is not that, it’s simply intuitive. It’s just a fundamental mismatch between our perception of a screen image and our perception of the actual world around us.

      Phone designers should take a lesson from the camera people, superimpose a yellow box of what the vertical view would look like over the horizontal video when the “footage” is replayed – and then advance beyond what a film camera could do and give the person the option of saving the vertical view in place of the horizontal if they so choose. Mostly, people wouldn’t.

      This is the kind of perception thing Steve Jobs would have been all over.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Occasionally, it’s a good idea to take a still photo that’s vertical.

      That used to be a very good idea, for newspaper design. But vertical photos aren’t nearly as desirable in the blogging world. They can be made to work, if you run them small and wrap the copy around them. But your main display art is almost always going to work better horizontally.

      And since the resolution is so good on modern phones, you’re pretty safe always shooting horizontally. In the relatively few instances when a vertical image is preferable (say, if you’re posting it on Pinterest — if that’s the sort of thing you feel moved to do), you can crop it…


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