The world is horizontal. All viewing devices except cell phones are, and even they are easily held in landscape. Vertical (or “portrait,” this should give you a hint) works well for one thing, and one thing only: to take portraits. Landscape is for landscapes, more than one person, things, people who are standing next to something. As a rule of thumb: if you can zoom in and still have a useful picture or if you have to take more than a step to get to something, use landscape.

There are, of course, aesthetic, reasons. Landscape “looks” better. But aesthetics are debatable1.

What’s not debatable is neurology and medicine in this case: our eyes aren’t made to work well on a surface narrower than nine centimeters (the iPhone 7 has not quite seven, the iPhone 7+ not quite 8cm) when moving content is presented. In the simplest case (you’re young, male, and white2) this leads to a little strain that’s simply glossed over. In the worst case, it can lead to nausea, exacerbation of migraine onset, and worse.

Your eyes are horizontal, not vertical. The nerves and muscles used to move your eyes from left to right are better developed, since evolution selected for predator/prey scanning more than watching vertical videos. We also perform approximately 212 horizontal movements for every vertical movement — this begins when reading books or watching our environment, and ends at involuntary movements.

A counter argument is, that some content is simply made to be viewed on cell phones (Instagram and Snapchat do this all the time when asked) and therefore it’s OK to shoot it in an orientation that’s only made for cell phones. That’s a valid consideration, if you neglect the neurological aspects above. But even then, your camera is fully capable of doing both, no matter what kind you use. Yet, only cell phones are good receptacles for the portrait kind, so unless excluding audiences is your goal (everyone can view wide videos), why not hold your camera the way all devices can display, and display well?

Vertical video goes counter to the way we see, counter to the way we (therefore) designed video display devices, and counter to the neurological and anatomical realities in humans. Don’t do it.

Footnotes

  1. The aesthetics of various formats for film and photography are being debated by scholars since the mid-13th century (then only paintings), when Guiseppe DiNuzzo stabbed his opponent in a debate about canvas sizes with a sharpened paintbrush handle, killing him, and finally attaining the notoriety and fame his 22×6 (hxw) paintings did not afford him.
  2. Current research shows, that women, Asians, and older viewers have an even wider FoV and depth following at narrower distances and widths. This also plagues VR Headset makers with issues partially and loosely related to vergence accommodation

4 Comments on “Stop doing vertical video things. Please?”

  1. How abot photgraphy would these agrument apply to them as well when vieved from a digital device? Would you say that digital portrait photography should be avoided as well?

    1. I personally don’t think so, since this kind of visual cueing does not involve motion. There are some cognitive scientists that have worked on impression and impact studies between wide and tall images, but none seem to suggest that it could lead to vertigo and vergence accommodation issues. As soon as motion is involved, however…

  2. I’m reading this in portrait mode and there is a lot of motin when I scroll down. The same thing when I’m scrolling trough instagram. There must be some reason why people prefer portrait in these medias. Or it’s just the hand position?

    I have seen some statistics on portrait video having much longer viewing time on mobile platforms. I wonder why is that. Why majority seem to prefer vertical video on mobile?

    I personally like the estetics of vertical and would prefer vertical over horizontal on mobile. But it’s tricky format to use in facebook and youtube… works in theory but not in practice. I’m interested to try something in 1×1 size. 🙂

    1. When you’re reading, your eyes stay somewhat centered, while the page moves. In film, action is not centered, requiring your eyes to move.

      My numbers seem to not match yours, and I’d be very interested in seeing the data these statistics used. Mine can be found here: https://goo.gl/photos/6f3brgtzqBEzwqdT8 (a small quantitative study that shows time on a video and interaction percentage (clicked, commented, etc.) over a r/p=1). Interesting is also, that videos with crop bars (black bars on top or side) have a much lower interaction coefficient. Which would speak for using vertical video for handheld device only markets.

Leave a Reply