Vertical Format Shift

My wife, as a Facebook addict long accustomed to exclusively shoot for mobile publishing, always shoots vertical format. Which disturbs my eye and sense of harmony. “Gosh dammit for the sake of it shoot horizontal!” For traditional print and desktop publishing, vertical format is a pain, and guess I grew up accustomed to the plain old standard horizontal format, well with exceptions going square now and then. Now take this: we are increasingly thinking mobile first. Nearly 90% of U.S. mobile phone users access news and information on their phones. Meaning photos as well are mostly seen on mobile screens, on mobile vertical screens. There you go. Mobile usage is challenging professional, established photography.

Not too long ago, vertical imagery was the mockery of the online photo world, writes Olivier Laurent in the TIME magazine article How Snapchat is Challenging Professional Photography. Even YouTube deemed vertical videos forbidden a few years back. Now you can lock the screen to vertical format, and vertical photos and mobile devices are a perfect match. This has consequences for photography traditionalists, as the overwhelming majority of mobile users are holding their phones the way they were designed to be held: vertically.

This drastic shift from desktop and laptop computers, with their traditional landscape-type screens, to mobile phones is sparking a renewed demand for vertical photography across media organizations. During the Rio Olympic Games, for example, a team of digital photo editors used the wire agencies to produce slideshows of vertical images designed specifically for the New York Time’s mobile. Writes Laurent:

The rapid shift to vertical is due, in no small part, to the growing popularity of apps like Snapchat and Instagram. Snapchat, with its 150 million users, reaches 41% of consumers aged 18 to 24 in the U.S., with users spending between 25 and 30 minutes within the app every single day. When opened, the Snapchat app offers users a full-screen, vertical camera, inviting them to shoot in that orientation. This user behavior is now spreading beyond the ephemeral communication app and its new challenger, Instagram Stories.

The demand for vertical photography is felt especially on social media. For journalism this means editing photos three times: for the print edition, for digital desktop edition and for the mobile version. “The demand for verticals could ultimately lead to a generation of photographers who will master the vertical frame with the same aesthetic intelligence as we see in horizontals and squares,” says Sarah Leen, National Geographic’s director of photography.

And remember? Instagram eased up on the square-only format. Because of demand by both photographers and audience to break out of that. So it’s not only the mobile apps forcing end users to follow the tech companies’ lead, it’s end users’ strong influence of how digital interaction is shaped.

How about you? If I know a photo is exclusively for mobile publication, vertical it is, with no attempts to extract a horizontal or square version. But hardly ever catch me out shooting vertical when using the good old traditional camera.

(via TIME)


  • right_writes

    Surely it is better to encourage people to be a little bit flexible…?

    When considering a shoot, decide first whether this could use the widescreen effect of a horizontal phone to good advantage…

    If so, then do it…

    The user will inevitably turn the screen to horizontal as soon as it is clear that the creator wanted them to be interested in both the subject and the surrounding landscape.

    After all, the phone is only locked in a vertical position when it is say fixed to a car dashboard and there, one should not be looking at one’s video or photo libraries… at most times it is easy to turn a phone through 90 degrees.

    My tuppence worth…

    It has far more to do with fashion, fad and the current influence of a couple of apps, than the shape or convenience of a phone.

    • Golden ratio in photography comes to mind, a powerful composition tool for ages. It’s a 1:1.618 ratio, horizontal, closer to four thirds than the “standard” two thirds format. But then again, the end justifies the means.