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Techniques for planning, shooting, editing & PLAYING vertical video

 

Artists have always made vertical (tall- or portrait-format) artworks, so why not films & videos?  Adventurous filmmakers never accept "but that's just how we've always done it" as an excuse!  Certainly, in the past a lot of problems derived from the way moving image apparatus was designed. But now, as digital cameras become more flexible and mobile devices proliferate, the possibilities are beginning to outnumber limitations.  

So, how to make a vertical video?  Read on...


Tripods, Cameras & Mounts

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Almost every digital camera these days can shoot high definition vertical video; it's just a matter of turning it 90º and 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 turn it the other way (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 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.

Many adventure/sports cameras come with simple 3-way pivot arms which allow you to angle them sideways.

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

Most 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 reserved 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 of your tripod's baseplate:

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

You can buy them or make your own with an L-bracket and buy the right screw for your camera 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. Drones such as the DJI Mavic Pro have "portrait" modes which tilt the gimbal 90º.

Above, the easiest solution for traditional 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 have a workable solution without any extra effort. Make sure you counter-balance its tendency to fall, base-over-apex, so to speak!  And 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 the cinema, and not because Hollywood can't afford tripods! Beware that the narrower field of view of a 9:16 frame tends to exaggerate horizontal (left-right) movement, especially when projected large and tall, as in our 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 fix small wobbles — but do some tests of both with your camera and know the limitations of both methods. You can reduce the nauseating effects of constant movement by following some basic handheld camera stability techniques in this link.

Left of Field options!

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 device.


Shot Composition

Vertical video framing initially takes a bit of thought; obviously not every subject is suited to this format. Humans can be ... but only till they start to move quickly: thanks to gravity we usually move horizontally, and horizontal movement is not vertical's strong suit. Pans or rapid action moving across the frame can be discombobulating for an audience due to the reduced field of view.

On the other hand, low and tall angles take on renewed power in the vertical format.

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 (standing or seated), buildings, trees, mountains, giraffes... ;-)

The Rule of Thirds still applies. If your shot has a strong horizon, consider moving it above or below the middle of the frame — unless 50/50 sky/land is your compositional strategy of course!

Remember that action-safe and title-safe areas also apply: keep important detail and especially text away from the frame edges lest it be cut off during stabilisation, projection or playback.  Be aware that some 4:3 screen devices like iPads may crop top and bottom when expanding the image to occupy the full-screen.

ON CROPPING VS ROTATION
If you can shoot 4K video but only need 2K or less (eg. HD) you may be tempted to mark out a 9:16 frame within your camera's horizontal LCD display, and then crop it in post-production.  Full-frame vertical however forces you to think about the vertical framing "natively" in, removes a layer of post-processing & rendering, and future-proofs the material for 4K uses.



Subject Matter

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Our first edition was an umbrella event of the Australian Climbing Festival and so quite a few entries were climbing- and mountain-related.

However there are plenty of other subjects out there that would benefit from a vertical perspective as well, particularly those involving people. 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 (canvas). Whatever you do, don't create an editing canvas with black side-bars as you're losing resolution and making problems for later.

Either:
1A. Work with the footage on its side (the easiest and most common method). 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!  Tablets can be used as secondary vertical displays for a computer.

Or...

1B. Create a vertical project and edit with rotated clips. 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) Adjust your clips in the browser if needed to give them a 90 or 270º rotation.

'New Project' settings in FCPX

2. Export with the recommended compression as Vimeo explain here, keeping your project dimensions and frame rate the same.

3. If you've been editing sideways (method 1A) you now need to take an additional step: 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 some versions of VLC may not.)

4. Now you have a vertical video exported as such. At this stage you can upload it to the web.  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 editing program as some devices automatically set the rotation flag to Portrait or Landscape based on an internal gyroscope, during 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 consequent quality loss.

ⓘ These directions describe export for viewing on the web. If however your destination is a projector or a screen tilted on its side, you should use the method described in sections 1A & 2. (Check whether the projector/screen will be rotated left or right though, otherwise the audience will need to stand on their heads to view your film!)


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!

Here's a link to a brief explanation of music copyright for filmmakers.

You can 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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Two years back, 2015 marked the first dedicated vertical video app for mobile devices called Vervid. This was an exciting but sadly 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.  Ignore Vimeo's patronising warnings about your video being shot the wrong way!

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 keep trying...

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! :-)

 


PROJECTION

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If you're using a video projector  many will come with specific warnings against turning them on their side.

It's not a conspiracy against vertical filmmakers, just lack of design forethought: hot air rises and needs to be able to escape through a vent.

If you play back with the projector horizontal however, you will have the image confined to a low-resolution centre area with black side-bars.  So it's best to find a projector that is designed for vertical mounting.

We don't recommend using projector models that specifically caution against it — but if (like us!) you do, at least take these few steps:

Projector set-up at the VFF 2nd edition.

1) Work out how the heat generated by the lamp will try to escape when mounted on its side and ensure that it can, else you'll blow a very expensive bulb and may melt internal components or cause a fire.

2) Stabilise the projector vertically (we use a large stand and then tie-down lashing straps designed for for load restraint) while keeping the input ports accessible behind or on top.

3) In a hot environment you may want to point a fan at the unit as well!

4) Have all of your films ready to go as a VLC playlist on a laptop. Treat the projector as a second monitor, go to full screen playback on that screen, turn off OSD (on-screen display) in the preferences, turn off any notifications such as calendar or mail pop-ups, hook up the sound, and you're ready to go!


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 while your playback speakers probably won't be!  Maybe Dolby will come out with 10.1 surround one day (woofer + 5 channels down low, and another 5 near the ceiling) but until then "vertical sound" must wait in the wings...

Hopefully by now you're tempted to give vertical video a try if you haven't already. Your choice of whether to make a horizontal, vertical, circular or even a square film (like Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, or Fritz Lang's M) would, in an ideal world, be determined by your subject matter and what you’re trying to say. Ignore the naysayers who will whine that "our eyes horizontal!" Such an argument relies upon the idea that screens are solely to provide the most immersive version of reality (ie. widescreen). But perhaps cinema is at its most powerful not when it’s creating illusions but rather offering alternative visions of our world — and vertical video can sometimes do just that.

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

Adam Sébire
Festival Co-Director
July 2017