Shooting Vertical

Imagine if artists such as photographers and painters were restricted to landscape format by Natasha Sebire

Not too long ago, I was filming a child on a tricycle zipping about when he entered a narrow pathway, with high vegetation each side. On the spur of the moment I turned my camera on the side and shot it vertically as the composition worked so much better. I carried on but suddenly realised what I had done. Horrified at my major faux pas, I quickly looked around rather embarrassed in case anybody saw me do it. 

Backtrack a few months previous to this, and it’s completely understandable why I did this. I had just finished close to fifty shoots with an internationally renowned company. The brief was everything had to be filmed in portrait orientation. It became the norm for me to film with the camera tipped on the side, and I liked the new freedom and also the compositional challenges that it brought. Filming individuals suited the frame nicely, but was frustrating for a group of people. Pans were something to be careful with, but tilts looked impressive. Going back to ‘normal’ 16×9 shoots felt very limiting. 

Maybe because of my background in adventure filmmaking and shooting in difficult conditions, filming vertically seemed like another challenge I was keen to take on. Even working out how to modify equipment to mount a camera on it’s side was fun.

Scenes from the vertical film ‘Impact’ – DIR/DOP Jean-Charles Granjon

In 2014, I was co-organising the Australian Climbing Festival and we wanted to include a film competition. I approached my brother, Adam, completing a PhD in video visual art, for help. At the time he joked that climbing was so much better suited to a vertical frame. We decided that wasn’t such a silly idea after all and so created the ‘Vertical Film Festival’ (VFF). 

At first, it was a struggle just to get enough 9:16 content to make the festival happen. Frustratingly entries flooded in from people who hadn’t read the guidelines and who’s films were horizontal! We managed in the end and the screening was a big success. The screen was easily tipped on its side and hung from the tall ceiling of a beautiful church in Katoomba, NSW. There was risk the projector would overheat by being turned on its side, but with an external fan aimed at the projector things went off without a hitch. The first competition in the world for vertical film was born.

Fast-forward to 2018 and things have really gained momentum. We are in our 3rd edition, and the VFF has set the standard for other film festivals in the same format, of which there seems to be more and more. Vertical video, once frowned upon, is now much more widely accepted. The standard of the films is also getting better and better. Our 2016 winner, Jean-Charles Granjon, shot the magnificent ‘Impact’ with two Phantom Flex cameras in 4K at 1,000fps!

Recently, I was filming for a commercial as ‘cliff DP’, and hanging high up on a rock face I framed the climber as he’d make his way up the steep wall and then take a long fall. As I hung there I thought what a shame I couldn’t film this vertically, the viewer would then feel the enormous exposure underneath and witness the entire stomach wrenching fall! Interestingly enough, the deliverables included creating some 9:16 content. Times are changing.

With new technologies emerging things are set to change regardless. Smartphones have certainly been the impetus to allow vertical video to enter its ‘golden age’. Maybe we’re going to come full circle and end up with the dynamic square just as the great Russian filmmaker-theorist, Sergei Eisenstein, argued for in the 1930s. No doubt he’d be pleased with that!

Natasha Sebire is an experienced and passionate camera operator, with expertise in adventure filmmaking.

The 3rd Vertical Film Festival will be held in Sydney, in December 2018. 

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