Vertical video tips: making your Snapchats shine

Portrait-oriented videos (or ‘vertical’ videos) have received a terrible rap over the years, and not without reason. Cries of “say no to vertical videos” became widespread as smartphone cameras became increasingly high- quality and their users increasingly used them for web videos.

There’s no end of voices out there telling us not to film in portrait – because humans have evolved to see things in ‘widescreen’; because vertical letterboxes are ugly and a waste of space; because people will get stiff necks from looking upwards. However, the near-universal use of apps such as Snapchat,  (and their importance to brands,) means that vertical videos are undeniably here to stay.

Let’s assume you want to produce a video for your Snapchat feed. All videos, photos, and story items on Snapchat are oriented vertically, and this orientation is naturally the best orientation for the app. Mobile video growth has increased by 400% in two years alone. People view video content on their smartphones, and the vertical content is designed to fill the entire screen of the phone – and if you’re making the video on a smartphone, the orientation makes perfect sense. It’s not going away – there’s even a vertical film festival and vertical video app geared towards the way we naturally hold smartphones.

Instead of complaining about vertical video as a whole, as many film students might do, it’s much more productive at this stage to look at the ways in which you can get the most out of the vertical video orientation. It’s just another orientation, after all, with its own pros and cons. Let’s look at the ways you can make your Snapchat story extraordinary.

Rule of thirds

Let’s return to that most basic framing concept, the rule of thirds. This composition technique is generally applied to horizontal or square images based on the idea that images structured in thirds are more pleasing to the eye than those that are centrally-framed. That’s why Instagram, as well as digital cameras, include a grid overlay setting for your viewfinder.

It seems tricky to apply the rule of thirds to a vertical video, but it isn’t. Exactly the same principles tend to apply. Vertical orientations particularly benefit low / tall angles as that is where the field of vision lies – so think about lowering or raising the camera / smartphone to incorporate more vertical space.

Composing shots in thirds according to the vertical lines visible on- camera similarly gives viewers an excellent feeling of space and depth, particularly if you avoid flat-on framing.

It’s also worth considering that because vertical orientations represent such a change, it’s possible to break these rules altogether. Vertical compositions give you the opportunity to create a great feeling of space within an image, by placing subjects at the lower third of the frame and leaving the rest empty. That brings us onto our next tip.

Vertical subjects

One of the benefits of the horizontal orientation is that it provides a visual boost to horizontal subjects. Landscapes, horizons, tables, swimming pools and the like all look great when viewed horizontally because that is their natural orientation - while giraffes, skyscrapers, and tall people all risk being cut off by the frame.

When filming Snapchat videos, then, you need to look for subjects and settings which suit the frame. Backgrounds such as skylines, mountains, corridors, tunnels, and doorways suddenly take on a whole new visual appeal, and single subjects in the foreground (a walking or talking figure, for example) receive all the attention.

Similarly, the vertical format also makes it easier for you to incorporate text into your videos, as we are used to reading left-to-right on pages formatted vertically, rather than horizontally. Vertical video benefits all of these visual subjects and more.

Getting up close

Remember that photographers have been taking vertically-oriented photographs for centuries – so we could learn a thing or two from them. As this guide points out, vertical camera orientations look best when you get up close and personal with your subject matter. You can get low or high, it doesn’t matter –, but getting close “accentuates the visual power of leading lines and dramatically increases the visual weight of foreground features.”