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Techniques for planning, shooting & editing vertical video

 

People have always made vertical (portrait-format) paintings and photos, so why not films & videos?  True artists never accept "but that's how we've always done it" as an excuse!  In the past, a lot of it was to do with the way moving image apparatuses were designed.  But now, as cameras become easier to use and mobile devices proliferate, those limitations are disappearing and new possibilities are burgeoning.

So, how do I make a vertical video?  Read on...


Tripods, Cameras & Mounts

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Almost every camera these days can shoot high definition vertical video; once you've ensured that you can shoot at least 1280x720 resolution (1920x1080 is preferred for Festival screening) and either 24, 25 or 30fps (frames per second), it's just a matter of turning the device 90º then working out how to deal with the ergonomics.
If the camera screen or display can tilt, swivel and still be seen when the device is 90º, great, otherwise use it 270º and flip the image in editing if needs be. The smaller the camera, the tougher it is to keep steady while handheld though, so...

How ON EARTH do I mount a camera sideways on a tripod?  

Fear not. Here are some ideas.

http://joby.com/smartphones/griptight-gorillapod-stand

http://joby.com/smartphones/griptight-gorillapod-stand

Plenty of manufacturers make mounts for mobile phone-cameras (above).

GoPro with 3-way pivot arm atop a baby tripod.

Some GoPro models (and their many competitors) come with simple 3-way pivot arms which allow you to angle them sideways, or you can purchase them as accessories.

http://www.digitalcameraworld.com/2013/10/20/the-best-way-to-use-a-ball-head-tripod-mount/

Many ball-head tripods (above) allow 90º tilt shots.

Manfrotto 808 3-way tilt head tripod with Canon 60D atop.

If you have a DSLR camera, you might use a 3-way tilt-head tripod, usually used for stills, and mount it on that. This enables rough tilt & pan as well.

Manfrotto 190XPROB legs with horizontal centre column.

If your tripod legs have a horizontal centre column option, that's also an alternative, though somewhat cumbersome.

In each case, you might want to keep shots angled correctly by investing in a small spirit-level (for a couple of bucks on the internet) that slots into the hot shoe connector on your camera to show when it's level.

None of these solutions is likely to give you smooth pans or tilts however. That may or may not be a problem depending on what you want to do.

For smooth tripod moves, or for cameras much heavier than a kilogram, you should be using a more solid tripod, ideally with a fluid head for gentle moves on both pan- & tilt-shots.

Therefore you might need an L-bracket Tripod Mount (also called an L-Plate) to go on top:

From http://www.diyphotography.net/diy-l-plate-l-bracket/

You can buy them or you might make your own with an L-bracket and buy the right screw for your camera baseplate from a hardware shop. Make sure your camera doesn't pivot on the screw and fall forward under the weight of its lens though. Larger cameras may have a second hole in their baseplate for a registration pin which prevents this.

Letus Helix (note that it's not designed for this and so it may strain the motors during prolonged use).

If you're lucky enough to have access to a gimbal stabiliser such as a Movi or Letus Helix (above), you may be able to use the joystick control simply to rotate the camera 90º:

Above, the easiest solution for fluid head tripods: try rotating the baseplate 90º on the bottom of your camera, mount it back on the tripod, tilt the head forward 90º and you might just have a workable solution without any extra gizmos. Make sure you counter-balance its tendency to fall, base-over-apex, so to speak!  A good way to do this is to make sure one of the legs is always directly below the camera.

All too complicated? 
Go handheld.

Handheld camerawork is becoming more and more common in cinema, and it's not because Lars von Trier can't afford a tripod. Beware that 9:16 tends to exaggerate horizontal (left-right) movement, especially when projected large and tall, as in this festival. Excessive camera wobbles — or even medium-fast pans — will amplify this effect and may make your audience ill! Lens image stabilisation may help if you have a lens with this feature, and applying an image stabiliser filter in editing may occasionally give acceptable results for smaller wobbles — do some tests of both with your camera. Generally it's best to limit shots that involve constant movement, or reduce its effects by following some basic handheld camera stability techniques in this link.

Left of Field options!

This guy made a steadicam out of an el cheapo tripod.

Whether it could cope with 9:16 camera orientation though probably depends on the tripod head; we don't vouch for his method!

Or what about this, the ultimate cheap vertical filmmaking rig: kebab skewers and tape!

From http://www.exit109.com/~dnn/verticalmedia/Text/

From http://www.exit109.com/~dnn/verticalmedia/Text/


Do you have any experiences or other techniques to share? Please email us a photo and description and if we think it can help others we'll include add it to the page!


ⓘ A little word of caution: always take great care when mounting cameras in ways that the manufacturers didn't intend, as their centre of gravity will shift, potentially making it unbalanced, and placing unexpected strains on the bottom of the unit.

Lastly, please note that these links are not to endorse any particular brand, model or retailer. There are many more out there easily uncovered by a quick web search.


Shot Composition

Vertical video framing initially takes a bit of thought, but once you get the hang of it, your perspective on the world changes!

Look out for strong vertical features in the composition of the shot that can give reason for it to exist in the vertical format. People, buildings, trees, mountains, giraffes...

The Rule of Thirds still often applies. If your shot has a strong horizon, consider moving it above or below the middle of the frame — unless that's your compositional strategy.

Low and tall angles take on renewed power in the vertical format — experiment!

Remember that action-safe and title-safe areas still apply: keep important detail and especially text away from the frame edges lest it be cut off during stabilisation, projection or playback.



Subject Matter

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This is not just a festival for climbing and giraffe films! Yes, our first edition was an umbrella event of the Australian Climbing Festival and so quite a few entries were climbing-related.

However there are plenty of other subjects out there that could be very interesting from a vertical perspective as well. The best advice might be to choose a subject — any subject — which 9:16 can explore from a whole new perspective...

Natasha Sebire - Australian Climbing Festival ©2014

Editing

Exact workflow here will depend on your editing program.  The general idea is to edit your footage how it was shot, ie. with it filling the screen. Whatever you do, don't edit with black bars as you're losing resolution and making problems for later:

So:

1. Import and edit your footage as it is, at its highest resolution (if it's sideways you may like to use a second display and turn it on its side to avoid cricks in your neck!  Did you know that tablets can be used as secondary vertical displays for a laptop, for example?)

Update: Many professional editing programs such as FinalCutPro X now cope with custom project sizes.  In this case manually enter a 9:16 aspect ratio when creating a new project (eg. 1080x1920 or 720x1280 pixels) and then adjust your clips in the browser if needed to give them a 90 or 270º rotation. (You can skip the remaining steps below but be sure to export your finished film in the same dimensions.)

'New Project' settings in FCPX 10.2.3

2. Export with the recommended compression as Vimeo explain here.

3. If you've been editing sideways you can use the free, cross-platform MPEG Streamclip (see screenshot, right) to rotate the video 90º and re-save it (use SAVE AS, not export, else you will lose some video quality on the re-encode). This may also work with Quicktime 7 Pro for Mac or ffmpeg for Mac and PC. The procedure basically changes the 'rotation' flag on an MP4/H.264 video file without re-encoding. (Note that Quicktime, Vimeo & YouTube will take notice of this flag, but VLC playback may not.) All these options are complicated and recommended only for people with some technical knowledge!

4. At this stage you can choose to upload it to the web. At the time of writing (Nov 2016) Vimeo, YouTube and Facebook all support 9:16 BUT may play it back with side bars on desktop devices unless you embed them on a webpage with the correct dimensions as we do on this site.  On mobile devices everything should work fine and they should fill the vertical screen.

We use Vimeo for the Festival's Selection Panel to view when we have an open call. Details about our upload and submission procedures are on our Submit Your Work page (you should read this next if you're submitting a film to us).

ⓘ If you shoot on an smartphone or tablet, your footage may already appear rotated in your ediing program as some devices set the rotation flag to Portrait or Orientation when you are shooting.

ⓘ Don't want to buy an editing program? Check out Lightworks Free for Linux, Mac and Windows.

 

Above: Rotate your completed vertical video with the free MPEG Streamclip. Once rotated, SAVE AS to avoid recompression and quality loss.


MUSIC

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If you use existing, published music you will need permission in writing (a licence agreement) to do so. These can be very expensive unless you know the writers and performers personally! It’s therefore often better to use original or royalty-free music. 

Here's a brief explanation of music copyright for filmmakers. You might buy tracks for video use from a site like AudioNetwork or Vimeo's own Music Store, or you might dive into the sharing world via Creative Commons (CC). Here's an explanation of how CC works with site links, and here's another listing of Creative Commons music sites such as SoundCloud.  Better still, befriend a composer or some musicians who want to get their music out to the world!


Working Vertically Online

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In 2015 there was a dedicated vertical video platform for mobile devices called Vervid. This was an exciting but short-lived development. We use Vimeo for judging previews and for exhibition of finalists because they're one of the few sites that allow us to easily embed tall-format screen videos up the right way on the web without encountering the vertical filmmaker's nemesis: pillar-boxing (black bars on the sides of the video). Bizarrely, pillar-boxing will appear on your video when viewed on Vimeo's own page, and your icon may appear squished, but both problems disappear if you 1) embed the video on your own page or blog or social media channel and 2) upload a custom thumbnail via Vimeo's settings for the video.

Facebook used to cope with vertical videos, but now pillarboxes them again in many situations. It also comes with a whole swag of issues surrounding content ownership — plus their compression quality is often extremely poor.

YouTube, like Vimeo, will display videos with pillar-boxing on their site. The solution here (at the time of writing) is to edit the embed code when pasting it into a webpage, and change the dimensions to 9:16 (eg. replace <iframe width="1280" height="960" with the figures 540 and 960 respectively).  It can take some fiddling to get it right.  YouTube is slowly getting its act together for vertical filmmakers, especially for playback via its mobile app, so do check.

Hopefully these companies will wake up to themselves soon and realise that vertical video can be a valid aesthetic choice on the part of the filmmaker, and they therefore deserve a bit of dignity! :-)

 


Final Thoughts...

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All these tips have been about vertical vision, but that's not to say good sound is any less important ("sound is fifty percent of the movie-going experience" according to a certain well-known Hollywood director). Recording good, clean sound on location may save you hours of anguish in the editing room and your audience will thank you for not having to listen to lens stabilisers clicking away.

And no, you probably shouldn't rotate your stereo microphones 90º with the camera, otherwise left/right will become top/bottom!  Maybe Dolby will come out with 10.1 surround one day (woofer + 5 channels near the floor, and 5 near the ceiling) but until then "vertical sound" must wait in the wings...

Lastly: experiment. Like the early pioneers of expanded cinema, test out your ideas, make mistakes, find solutions, break rules, and push the vertical form's potential. That's precisely what we set up the Festival to encourage artist-filmmakers to do.  We can't wait to see what you come up with!

Adam Sébire
Festival Co-Director
December 2016