Vertical Video (9x16) – Should You Film With Your Camera Sideways, or Normally?

When making videos for a vertical / portrait / 9x16 format, we need to consider all the pros and cons of shooting with your camera sideways vs normally.

Friday, June 10, 2022
• Published by
Cory McCabe

You’ll often seen content creators, or even filmmakers, shooting videos with a camera turned in its side.

You’ll often seen content creators, or even filmmakers, shooting videos with a camera turned in its side.

This, of course, is an attempt to make videos tailored for social media platforms, like Instagram’s Reels, IG Video; which is the longer-form portrait videos, YouTube’s Shorts, or TikToks.

And it makes a lot of sense. If the end result is an upright, 9x16, portrait video, why not turn your camera on its side so that you’re shooting in that exact format.

But is this the best way? And is that how you should shoot your projects? Well, like a lot of things, it depends.

So, by the end of this, I aim to make you feel confident, well-informed in making the decision for your project.

We Need to Talk About Your Camera’s Resolution

But first, let’s just point out that there are only two ways to make a short film for portrait viewing.

  1. Filming with the camera sideways (9x16)
  2. Filming normally (16x9), then cropping a 9x16 frame from that

I’m going to present to you why #2 might have the most benefits.

Okay, so your camera’s resolution.

Pros and Cons of Shooting on a 1080 HD Camera

If you’re only able to shoot in 1080 HD, that means you’re actually shooting a width of 1920 pixels by 1080 pixels.

Now, going back to the two options, you can shoot with your camera sideways, or normally, and then crop a 9x16 frame.

If you choose option 1; to shoot camera-sideways on a 1080 camera, your final result is perfectly acceptable as a portrait video.

I mean perfect acceptable. Having a height of 1920 pixels, and a width of 1080 pixels, are the minimum requirements for most all of these social platforms that accommodate portrait video.

Now, if you were to go with option 2; shooting camera-normal on a 1080 camera, you would gain the benefit of choosing your frame in post, but you’d be giving someone’s phone a height of 1080 pixels, with only 607.5 pixels across. Not a great experience, and actually unacceptable by the minimum requirements, so you can’t do that even if you wanted. Unless you upscaled your video in post, but don’t do that. That’a a terrible idea.

So, at this point, the winner is clear, you should always shoot your video camera-sideways if you want to appease vertical video formats.

But, there’s still more to consider. Because we’ve been talking about a 1080 HD camera, what about if your camera can shoot higher resolutions?

Well, I’m glad I asked.

Pros and Cons of Shooting 4K or Higher

If you’re shooting in 4K UHD, you’re getting 3840 pixels across, by 2160 pixels high. That’s precisely 2X that of our 1080 camera.

So again, with our two options being that we can shoot camera-sideways, or camera-normal, and then cropping a 9x16 frame, what are we working with now?

Well, if we go with option 1; shooting camera-sideways at 4K, our final result would now be more-than-acceptable as a portrait video, according to the minimum requirements.

Because we’d have a width of 2160 pixels and a height of 3840 pixels (9x16), with the minimum requirement being 1080x1920 (9x16).

So, with this result, we have a fixed 9x16 frame, and plenty of resolution. Which means we could either consider downscaling our final video to 1080x1920, OR we could even zoom in on our composition and get a different punched-in frame, which still meeting the minimum requirements. We could even zoom in on our compositions by 2X, but you wouldn’t want to exceed that as you’d be losing resolution.

That’s obviously really nice to have that flexibility where you can punch in.

But I’m sure you already figured that.

Now let’s talk about choosing option 2 with a 4K-capable camera. That is, if we shoot camera-normal at a 16x9 aspect ratio.

In this scenario, you’d be giving someone’s phone an end result of 1215 pixels wide and a height of 2160 pixels, which is a great viewing experience. 

But here’s where it gets better.

You would also gain the benefit of choosing your frame in post, and not just zooming like with our camera-sideways example, you’d be able to shift your frame left and right.

This gives you so much more creative control.

Plus, since our composition is 1215 x 2160, which is above the minimum requirements, we actually still do have the flexibility of zooming in on our frame a little bit if we want. Whether that’s quickly removing some unwanted edge in frame, like a light switch, or anything else (boom mic).

Specifically, for the nerds out there, you can zoom in 1.125 times before you start losing resolution with the final output being 1080x1920.

"Why Not Just Shoot in 9x16 and Get Your Frame Right In Camera?"

Okay, so let’s zoom out.

Some of you may be thinking,

“Yeah, obviously I would have more real estate if I shot in 16x9. But 1. that’s more work in post to get every shot cropped well, and 2. I’ve never had any framing issues when I do shoot camera-sideways.”

That’s a really great point. When you think of it that way, it’s like, why not just get your framing done right IN CAMERA, and then post production is just cutting it together, color, music, sound, and you’re good. No reframing needed.

But, an angle you might not be considering is leveraging all formats.

Shoot once, make multiple videos.